Month: May 2016

Postal pilgrimage


In an era of instant communication, the old-fashioned stamp still has a huge following. More than 50,000 people are expected to attend theWorld Stamp Show in New York, running May 28-June 4. The once-a-decade event includes rare stamp displays like the One-Cent Magenta fromBritish Guiana, which sold in 2014 for a record $9.5 million. “Before the Internet, stamp collecting was a way to learn about the world,” says Ken Martin of the American Philatelic Society, adding that many people now collect for relaxation or investment. But if you can’t make the show, he shares some favorite stamp sites withLarry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Hoolehua, Hawaii
Why bother with a postcard? This Molokai post office provides visitors free coconuts to address, stamp and mail — no packaging required. The fruits are piled up in a plastic postal bin for the picking and the postmaster even supplies Sharpies for addressing and decorating. Depending on the size of the fruit, postage may run about $20, Martin says. 808-567-6144;

Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Washington, D.C.
From the world’s rarest stamps to the surprisingly daring accomplishments of the U.S. Postal Inspection Services, visitors are amazed by the topics covered at this museum next to Washington’s Union Station, which attracted more than 350,000 visitors last year. “It’s the Smithsonian in all its glory,” Martin says. Current exhibits include PostSecret, a global Internet-based art project that collects anonymous confessions submitted on postcards.


Australia in 360: Experience your next dream vacation

Smallest post office
Ochopee, Fla.
The tiny shed near this Everglades community once held irrigation equipment for a tomato farm. But after the town’s post office burned down in 1953, it was repurposed to handle mail. The 7-by-8-foot post office attracts visitors eager to send postcards. “You’re not going to get more than five people in there at the same time,” Martin says. 239-695-4131;

B. Free Franklin Post Office and Museum
Don’t look for a ballpoint pen or an American flag at this post office. The clerks dress in colonial garb and work exclusively with quill and inkwell. And since the flag hadn’t been created when Benjamin Franklin served as the first Postmaster General, you won’t find it flying outside. Collectors come for the unique “B. Free Franklin” hand-stamped postmark, which is believed to be Franklin’s protest against British rule. 215-599-0776;

Pony Express National Museum
St. Joseph, Mo.
Long before overnight mail, galloping horses were the quickest way to deliver a package, and the Pony Express could get mail to California in under two weeks. “It saved a huge amount of time,” Martin says. At the museum, kids can sort mail, try on Western clothes and see the original stables. 816-232-8206,

Museum of Stamps and Coins
While mostly remembered for marrying Hollywood star Grace Kelly, the late Prince Rainier was also an avid stamp collector who personally approved the stamp designs released by his tiny principality. He founded this expansive museum which tracks the country’s history through its stamps, from its royal family to Grand Prix racing. 212-286-3330;

Postal History Foundation
See a 19th-century frontier post office made from a mail-order kit at this museum with historic postal memorabilia and exhibits. You’ll also find Mexican stamps and a working post office, which receives more new U.S. postal issues than any in the state.520-623-6652;

American Philatelic Center
Bellefonte, Pa.
The leading stamp collecting society brings the hobby alive at this restored 19th-century match factory that was once a stop on the New York-to-Chicago airmail route. Highlights include an 1860 post office and general store on loan from the Smithsonian, along with postal rarities. “There’s a lot of interest even from people who aren’t stamp collectors,” Martin says. 814-933-3803;

National Postmark Museum
Bellevue, Ohio
For some collectors, stamps are just the start. This museum strives to preserve an example of every unique stamp cancellation, about two million and counting. “There’s not a right way or a wrong way to collect. Each person decides what’s best for them,” Martin says. Highlights include first-day covers, an envelope postmarked on a stamp’s first day of issue.

Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History
Weston, Mass.
This gallery on the Regis College campus claims to be the nation’s first devoted to stamp collecting. “It has lots of aspects of a bigger museum, but on a smaller scale,” Martin says. It was founded by a former New York archbishop, whose career spanned the golden age of stamp collecting in the 1930s, and has more than two million artifacts, including President Dwight Eisenhower’s stamp collection. Visiting children receive a free packet of stamps. 781-768-8367;

Why People Are Cranky About Super-Cheap Flights to Europe

Norwegian Air faces ever more opposition as it tries to increase traffic across the Atlantic.

If you’ve been waiting for Norwegian Air’s deeply discounted flights between Boston and Ireland this summer, don’t pack your bags just yet. Norwegian has been waiting for the U.S. Department of Transportation to greenlight the new route for two years, and while the agency is wrapping up its work this week, it hasn’t said when it’ll make a final decision.

What’s the holdup? Norwegian Air, after all, already flies from the U.S. to Europe, via London Gatwick and several Scandinavian gateways, and it also offers seasonal flights from the U.S. to the French Caribbean. But those flights are operated by a Norwegian company called Norwegian Air Shuttle; Norwegian has another subsidiary, based in Ireland—Norwegian Air International—that was set up to take advantage of greater freedoms out of that nation. (Norway is not a member of the European Union; Ireland is.) And it’s this newer company, NAI, that’s the launch pad for a raft of new flights from Irish airports at cut-rate fares and the source of all the ongoing controversy.

That’s because a powerful coalition of U.S. airlines and their employee unions are labeling this offshoot operation as a major threat to the U.S. aviation industry, charging that it will pay low wages and, as one union official said, could cost thousands of U.S. jobs (allegedly because some U.S. carriers would drop routes rather than compete with this interloper). And they’ve gotten the ear of politicians—this is, after all, an election year—with Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both urging the DOT to reject the new services. In a statement on his website, Bernie Sanders wrote: “The U.S. Department of Transportation should not be rewarding [Norwegian Air International] with a foreign air carrier permit that would allow it to undercut the wages and benefits of airline workers throughout this country… We must do everything we can to prevent a global race to the bottom in the airline industry.”

“We think it’s a very dangerous situation,” said Ed Wytkind, head of the transportation trades division of the AFL-CIO. “They will go for the cheapest employees.”

Although the DOT recently issued a tentative decision in favor of Norwegian, a bill opposing the airline has landed in the House of Representatives and is garnering support. Norwegian has struck back, however. “Our opponents have created a wildly inaccurate fear-mongering situation,” said spokesman Anders Lindstrom. “We have filed a document with the U.S. pledging that NAI’s U.S. flights would be operated by U.S. and European crew,” he said, adding that the employees are paid market wages. He also claimed Norwegian already has more U.S.-based crew than any other foreign airline and plans to add additional American crew.

With all the heated rhetoric, it can be hard to sort out the facts, but one that’s often cited by Norwegian and its supporters (consumer group Travelers United among them) is that the airline business has become highly concentrated. In fact, the three major U.S. international carriers (Delta, American, and United) and their alliance partners control roughly 80 percent of the airline passenger traffic across the North Atlantic.

“The union efforts and claims are totally misdirected and are bad for consumers and the national economy,” said Charlie Leocha, head of Travelers United. Asked by Condé Nast Traveler to comment, a DOT spokeswoman would only say that once all the comments are in this week, there’s no deadline for the agency to act. In other words, super-cheap flights to Europe may not arrive in time for this year’s summer season.

Norwegian Air announces another U.S. route

Norwegian Air plans to launch nonstop service between Las Vegas and London’s Gatwick airport, the carrier announced Monday.

The route would give fast-growing Norwegian its fourth route out of Las Vegas. The low-cost carrier already flies to its bases in Stockholm and Copenhagen. Las Vegas-Oslo flights are set to begin in November.

But the Gatwick flights will test whether there’s enough demand for a third carrier to fly between Las Vegas and London. Virgin Atlantic already offers daily round-trip service from Las Vegas to London Gatwick. British Airways flies daily between Las Vegas and its hub at London Heathrow.

Norwegian would fly two flights a week on the route using 291-seat Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The service starts Oct. 31.

The 10 Fastest Trains in the World

Courtesy Siemens

The Eurostar e320

While a new era of supersonic airplanes remains a concept, bullet trains are a reality around the world—and they’re getting faster.

Traveling Europe by train is already faster than by plane right now, and just last year a Japanese train reached 374 mph on a test track, covering 1.1 miles in 10.8 seconds and hitting a new world record. You can’t ride that one just yet, but there are more than a few bullet trains available to speed your travels. Here are the world’s fastest high-speed trains in commercial service, ranked by operating speed:

1. Shanghai Maglev: 267 mph

The world’s fastest train isn’t the newest, the shiniest, or even the one with the most expensive tickets. Charging $8 per person, per ride, the Maglev runs the nearly 19 miles from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport to the Longyang metro station on the outskirts of Shanghai. That’s right—the train, which takes just over 7 minutes to complete the journey using magnetic levitation (maglev) technology, doesn’t go to the city center. As such, the bulk of the passengers since its 2004 debut have been travelers on their way to and from the airport, cameras out and ready to snap a photo of the speed indicators when the train hits 431 km/hr (267 mph).

2. Harmony CRH380A: 236 mph

Shanghai wins again, serving as home to more than just the Maglev. China Railways’ Harmony is the world’s fastest non-maglev passenger train currently in service, connecting Shanghai with Nanjing since 2010. It now counts additional routes of Shanghai to Hangzhou and Wuhan to Guangzhou.

3. Trenitalia Frecciarossa 1000: 220 mph

Italy’s “red arrow” is Europe’s fastest, capable of shuttling passengers from Milan to Florence or Rome in under three hours. Unveiled during Expo 2015, held in Milan, the train is remarkable as much for its speed as for its construction: its components are nearly 100 percent renewable and sustainable.

Courtesy Deutsche Ban

The DeutscheBahn ICE

4. Renfe AVE: 217 mph

Spain’s fastest train is the Velaro E by Siemens, and it is used for long-distance services to major Spanish cities and beyond: traveling from Barcelona to Paris can now be accomplished on high-speed rail in six hours.

5. DeutscheBahn ICE: 205 mph

The distinctively futuristic white and silver of the Inter-City Express, or ICE, combined with its sharp red line, makes an impressive sight speeding through scenic German countryside. Similar to Spain’s Renfe AVE train, Germany’s fastest train is another Siemens design, the Velaro D, and was built to fit through the Channel Tunnel. This fact is important as DeutscheBahn hopes to operate these trains in the future from Frankfurt to London.

6. Eurostar e320 and TGV: 200 mph

Both the TGV and Eurostar e320 trains are tied for next on the list, but it’s the latter that’s making headlines this year. Named for its top speed of 320 km/hr (200 mph), the e320 series is the first tip-to-tail redesign of a Eurostar train in the company’s 22 years. The speedier trains—20 km/hr faster than the earlier, e300 series—are capable of trimming another 15 minutes off the already zippy Eurostar trips of around two hours between Brussels, Paris, and London. Since Eurostar delivers its passengers right to the center of each city and fares are available with Rail Europe from $70 one-way, it’s a wonder anyone still flies between the cities.

7. Hayabusa Shinkansen E5: 200 mph

Japan is celebrating the 52nd anniversary of high-speed train travel this year, since it was way back in 1964 that the Hikari train launched service between Tokyo and Osaka, cutting travel time between the country’s two largest cities from nearly seven hours to a mere four by rail. The Hayabusa E5 series Shinkansen is one of the newer bullet trains on Japan’s tracks, and so far the fastest in regular commercial service, running fromTokyo to Shin-Aomori at the very north of Japan’s largest island, Honshu. This last March a new extension opened, allowing the route to continue north to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto on Hokkaido but at a lower average speed of 160 mph.

8. Thalys: 186 mph

Connecting Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Cologne with multiple daily services, the Thalys is one of Europe’s most important train lines for both leisure and business travelers; in fact, its ridership is almost an even split between the two categories. In December 2015 the German route was extended as far as Dortmund, though the Brussels-to-Paris run remains critical, making up more than half the business.

9. Hokuriku Shinkansen E7: 161 mph

Tickets for the March 2015 inaugural run of this train sold out in 25 seconds, and it’s no wonder when you consider that the line’s debut cut travel times from Tokyo to Toyama and Kanazawa, over the “Japanese Alps” on the other side of the country, from four hours with a connection to just over two hours on a single train. Kanazawa, on the Sea of Japan, escaped damage in World War II and counts historic geisha districts, former samurai neighborhoods, and one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens as attractions. Before the train’s debut it was mostly a beloved destination for domestic tourists, but the E7 Shinkansen is finally showing foreign visitors that there are even more postcard-perfect cities in Japan.

10. Amtrak Acela Express: 150 mph

America’s current entry in the world of high-speed train travel, the Amtrak Acela debuted in 2000 and hasn’t changed much since, with the exception of adding complimentary onboard Wi-Fi. Its network is restricted to the high-speed rails of the “Northeast Corridor” connecting Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., and traveling the entire length one-way clocks in at around seven hours due to some speed and infrastructure limitations along the way. By 2020, the west coast will have its own equivalent as Phase One of the California High-Speed Rail project connects San Francisco and Los Angeleswith travel time of two hours and 40 minutes thanks to speeds up to 220 mph.

Cracker Jack collectors keep their eyes on the prize

The annual convention of the Cracker Jack Collectors Association met in Memphis for the first time.USA TODAY

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — While tens of thousands of rib-basters and rubberneckers pig out on porkish pleasures at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Tom Lee Park, some 20 miles to the east, in a quiet hotel, a much smaller band of enthusiasts has gathered to celebrate an edible treat that may be appreciated more for its nostalgia value than for its flavor.

“Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize.”

The words are simple and matter-of-fact, like a police report describing the contents of a perp’s knapsack. But add a sing-song melody and you’ve got an earworm forever burrowed into the minds of millions of Baby Boomers, who grew up hearing the jingle over and over on television and can easily supply the kicker:

“That’s what you get in Cracker Jack.”

The annual convention of the Cracker Jack Collectors Association has come to Memphis for the first time, so its members can tour the city’s rock ’n’ roll shrines in between study sessions, “fun and games,” trading events and other activities devoted to the prizes, boxes and memorabilia associated with a snack that has been on shelves since 1896, making it one of the first mass-produced and trademarked forms of what haters call “junk food.”

The convention has brought close to two-dozen collectors to town from all over the country. If you meet one of these people, mind your P’s and Q’s — and S’s. Said longtime collector and Cracker grammarian Alex Jaramillo: “A lot of people put an ‘s’ on the end — ‘Cracker Jacks.’ That makes our skin crawl.”

Jaramillo, 65, is the Cracker Jack Collecters Association president and one of five collectors who haven’t missed a convention since the inaugural event was held in 1996 in Columbus, Ohio — home base of Borden Foods, which in 1964 purchased the snack brand from the private company created by Cracker Jack founder F.W. Rueckheim.

In 1997, Borden (now defunct) sold Cracker Jack to its current owner, PepsiCo, a specialist in salty/sweet confections via its Frito-Lay division. But the company’s attempts to update the snack — the prize currently inside boxes contains a QR code so kids can download an app for Cracker Jack video games — hasn’t restored the brand to market prominence or removed the patina of quaintness that clings to Cracker Jack with the tenacity of molasses-flavored corn-syrup on a burst corn kernel.

“I can remember sitting on my grandmother’s porch on the Jersey shore, and her big thing was to give me and my brother a box of Cracker Jack,” said collector Ann Brogley, 66, whose Philadelphia home contains what she calls a “smallish” collection of some 10,000 Cracker Jack items. “When you found the prize inside, it was such a special feeling.”

Taking its name from a Victorian slang term that today would be synonymous with “cool” or “awesome,” Cracker Jack hasn’t changed much in 120 years, even as its competition has thrived on gimmicks, sugar-shock levels of sweetness and diversity (Doritos have been marketed in dozens of flavors).

The snack still comes in a handy rectangular cardboard box that contains “Caramel Coated Popcorn & Peanuts” (to quote the current packaging) and a “New Prize Inside!” Drawings of the Cracker Jack mascots — Sailor Jack, a kid in a traditional sailor’s uniform, and his dog, Bingo — still appear on the box. The famous prizes once came in almost all shapes and sizes, and included a wide variety of magnifying glasses, whistles, rings and other items; but for the past decade, the prizes mostly have been paper — press-on tattoos, stickers, and so on — so they would not be choking hazards. (This may be a moot point, considering what else is inside the box.)

These prizes — most of which have been lost forever, due to their tiny size — are the primary source of Cracker Jack collector mania, and their history offers a crash course in American interests and obsessions.

“The prizes reflect the era in which they were made,” said Jaramillo, a former research scientist who lives in Fontana, Calif.

During World War II, for example, prizes included toy soldiers, tiny machine guns and miniature propaganda posters (“Loose lips sink ships”). In the 1950s, some prizes had rock ’n’ roll or “space race” themes, while 1960s prizes became “psychedelic” — “Flower Power” buttons, for example.

Because they are so varied, the Cracker Jack prizes attract many subsets of collectors: people who are interested in trains, the military, baseball and so on. Most of the more valuable prizes and even vintage boxes aren’t worth more than a few-hundred dollars each, but the Cracker Jack baseball cards from 1914 and 1915 can go for thousands of dollars each. (After all, one of Cracker Jack’s key claims to immortality is that the brand is name-checked in the 1908 song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”)

Pre-internet, Cracker Jack collectors were a loosely connected bunch who found one another mostly through the ads in the back pages of various nostalgia and collector’s market magazines. Now, the 100-member association communicates online, with a website and a quarterly newsletter (“The Prize Insider”).

Frito-Lay doesn’t offer much help. The company now does little advertising for Cracker Jack, a brand that the New York Times has reported earns about $51 million in annual sales, making it just a bit player in the $11 billion in revenue collected each year by Frito-Lay.

The Memphis convention began Wednesday and ends Saturday, after a 9 a.m. to noon exhibit and sale that will be open to the public for the first time in association history.

“It’s going to be a nostalgic trip in time for some people, but every age will find something that appeals to them,” said Chicago’s Theresa Richter, 68, a self-described “serious collector” whose home is a “wall-to-wall display” of Cracker Jack memorabilia.

But if the prizes have universal appeal, the confection itself doesn’t. Ironically, many Cracker Jack aficionados prefer other snacks.

“I’m one of those who actually eat Cracker Jack,” Jaramillo said. “A lot of collectors don’t. They feed it to the squirrels.”

Star Trek’s Universal Communicator, here we come

This could be a game changer when traveling abroad.
We’ve all been there: You’re standing in a foreign country, struggling to communicate in another language, and kicking yourself for thinking that listening to 20 minutes of “how to speak whatever” on your phone during the plane ride over would somehow get you by. The Pilot, an earpiece being developed by the wearable-technology company Waverly Labs and designed for the international traveler, aims to change all that, so you never get lost in translation again.

The ‘smart earpiece,’ as the company calls it, and corresponding app, uses speech-recognition technology to translate in real time, so that two people speaking different languages can have a conversation without missing a beat. Of course, in order for the technology to work, both people need to be ‘hooked up,’ so to speak—which is why the set comes with two earpieces, one for each participant. The idea is that when language gets in the way, both people would put in an earpiece and speak in their preferred tongue.

In a video released by the company, founder Andrew Ochoa reveals that he came up with the idea when he “met a French girl” and wanted to communicate with her clearly. “It’s the dream, you know?” he says. “A life untethered, free of language barriers. It’s just that it’s no longer a dream anymore. It’s real.”
The Pilot will initially be released in European-based Romance and Germanic languages, including English, Spanish, French, and Italian, according to the company’s website. Following the first wave will be other world languages, such as Slavic, Semitic, Hindi, and East Asian.

Waverly Labs says that it will begin taking pre-orders through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo this spring, and the mobile app will launch this summer. Earpieces will be available by spring 2017.

The company says it’s created the world’s first smart earpiece language translator.
While prices could change, the earpieces are currently slated to go for $299, including access to select languages. Additional languages will be available via download.

On the Waverly Labs blog, the company has also announced a giveaway “as a celebration for our upcoming campaign.” Go to the Pilot’s launch page to enter.


Five myths about pickpockets

Many travelers are concerned about identity theft, worried about a thief using an RFID reader to get their passport info or watching an ATM to steal a pin code. But what about pickpocketing, one of the world’s oldest crimes? It may not merit headlines, but it’s still a threat to tourists in many parts of the world. The old-school “lift” approach can be as devastating to a traveler as the new-school “tech” approach. Here’s a look at five myths about pickpockets.

1. I only travel to countries where pickpocketing isn’t an issue.

Those countries don’t exist.

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“Pickpocketing is one of the most widespread crimes in the world,” says Spencer Coursen, founder of the Coursen Security Group. “Anywhere goods and services are exchanged for currency is an area of pickpocketing appeal.”

Preparation for theft is a good idea regardless of where you’re heading. That starts with making photocopies of key documents, such as passports, vouchers, rail passes and even prescriptions, making sure to leave a copy with someone at home. Having a couple of extra passport pictures is also a good idea in case your passport needs to be replaced. You might also want to think about your choice of wardrobe.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that when you think about traveling somewhere, there will also be someone who thinks they can take advantage of your visit,” confirms  Adam Rapp, founder and designer of  Clothing Arts, which makes pickpocket-proof pants and other travel clothing designed to foil common thieves.

2. I’d feel it if someone stuck his hand in my pocket or bag and tried to remove my wallet.

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll feel anything.

“It is a practiced profession, and like any sleight-of-hand demonstration, employs distraction, misdirection and even compassion to enable success,” Coursen says.

Coursen adds that “a skilled practitioner will use their environment to their advantage. Subway cars, busy crosswalks and crowded elevators are all normal ‘bump’ environments where we willingly participate with an expectation of normal crowd dynamics. In this environment, it’s very unlikely you would think twice about someone pressing up against your purse or pocket. “

Rapp agrees that pickpockets are very hard to spot and that the theft is almost always discovered too late. There’s every chance that the pickpocket is far more skilled at theft than you are at observation.

“Working pickpockets, the key word being ‘working,’ train to be very good at stealing from you and doing so without you noticing,” Rapp says. “They’ve done it to many before you and will continue to do so long after they’ve taken your wallet. Thinking that you’ll be sure to catch them trying to steal from you is like saying that you can predict when it will hail.”

Rapp’s product was inspired during a trip to Xian, China, in 2007, a much-touristed city “where theft is a major problem and where signs says ‘Beware of Pick-Pockets’ everywhere.” Walking in a tunnel beneath the giant Drumtower, a major tourist destination, “my companion felt a tug on her backpack. She turned around and spooked the team of pickpockets who were going for both of us at the same time. They disappeared into the crowded mass of people behind us. This is when I looked down at the wide open pockets of my chinos.” So he decided to create a product that puts “security right into the pockets of my travel pants.”

3. I always keep my money and passport in an inside pocket.

Inside pockets of jackets and front pockets of jeans are all commonly thought of as more difficult to access. But to a trained pickpocket, that won’t make much of a difference. If they target you, it’s more than likely that they’ll get at your valuables.

“Pickpockets know exactly what you keep where,” says Coursen. “A good pickpocket will ‘mark’ their target in order to determine the likelihood of success. Many pickpockets will surveil retail shops, hotel lobbies, and popular areas of attraction to identify targets of opportunity. “

What are they looking for? Coursen says that ideal targets “are not local, alone, paying in cash or have recently visited an ATM, displaying an inherent vulnerability such as talking on the phone, wearing headphones, or carrying items in their arms.”

Old-fashioned money belts can be useful, says Rapp, since accessing them is difficult for both you and the pickpocket. They can be unwieldy, but offer a level of protection against pickpockets you can’t get with standard pockets.

4. I always avoid crowds, so there’s not much of a chance that I’ll get pickpocketed.

While crowds certainly offer a pickpocket a better chance at anonymity, pickpockets don’t limit their activity to crowds alone, Coursen notes. “Pickpockets often work in teams and will orchestrate a scenario to engage their mark. A common scenario may employ a ‘pick and roll,’ a ‘sandwich,’ or a ‘stall,’ where the target will be forced to stop suddenly and then be accidentally ‘bumped’ from behind by the ‘lift.’”

5. When I visit a new city, I avoid bad neighborhoods.

“Avoiding a neighborhood is not exactly going to prevent a good or bad experience from happening,” Rapp says. “Pickpockets will go where the tourists go. Planning your visit and being aware of your surroundings is the best way to not look like a tourist, plus make the most of your visit. “

Many of us know our home neighborhoods very well, Coursen points out, but it’s not so easy to be so certain of unfamiliar environments. Street signs don’t say “Bad Neighborhood Ahead.”

“In most cases, it’s an individual’s own actions that make them a target,” Coursen observes. “Like lions in the wild, predators don’t target the strongest among us, they target the weakest. Being aware of one’s own environment is important. But acting with a positive protective posture is more so:  Awareness + Preparation = Safety.”

How to avoid long TSA lines on your next flight

Around 450 passengers missed flights this weekend at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Time

You’ve probably already heard horror stories about unusually long TSA security lines at airports, which may only get worse as the summer travel crush adds more travelers.

While we wait for the TSA to fix this (mainly by adding more employees and trying to keep the ones they have), here are some strategies to make sure you don’t miss your flight.

Get to the airport super early. If you hate waiting at airports this might be a good time to splurge for an airline lounge day pass. American, for example, charges $50 for aone-day pass.

Plan to arrive at the very least two hours before boarding for domestic, three to four hours for international. But for some airports, such as Miami when the cruise ships come in, even two hours might not be enough.

Perhaps the best advice is to sign up (now!) for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. I prefer Global Entry because it includes PreCheck and it’s good for five years for a $100 fee. Some premium credit cards, such as the Amex Platinum Card, reimburse the fee.

The only problem with PreCheck is that at some airports the special lines are only open for a few hours a day, again because of staffing shortages. But not only are the lines much shorter than regular TSA lines, you don’t have to take out your laptop and liquids, and you can leave your shoes and light jacket on.

Another hack: Buy priority access to TSA lines such as JetBlue’s “even more speed,” which gives you expedited lines through TSA.  United has a similar program called Premier Access, which starts at $15. Delta calls it “Sky Priority” and it’s available at select airports.

Fly from less busy airports. If you live on Long Island, fly from Islip rather than from JFK, for example.  Long Beach usually has shorter lines than LAX, and so on.

Try to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday when airports are less busy. Some times of the day (such as midday) are slower than during the morning and evening rush, so lines should be shorter.

If you really want to make your plane on time and you fly Delta, their VIP Select Service is offered at LAX, JFK, San Francisco, LaGuardia and Atlanta. For $250, on top of any Delta fare, you get escorted to the front of the TSA line and even get a transfer between flights via a private car service on the tarmac, plus other VIP perks such as Skyclub lounge access (book via Delta’s VIP phone line at 855-235-9847). American has a similar program but it’s only available to business- and first-class passengers.

The ‘boneyard’: Where airlines send old planes to be scrapped

ROSWELL, N.M. –American Airlines Flight 9780 arrives from Dallas/Fort Worth and taxis past a line of other MD-80 passenger jets as the morning sun rises over the New Mexico desert on a chilly morning this past winter.

But as the jet comes to a stop, there’s no boarding gate or jet bridge. In fact, there are no paying passengers aboard at all.

The pilots leave the cockpit and head toward the rear of the plane. They drop the rear stairs from the 140-seat MD-80’s rear emergency exit, and the flight’s four occupants – two pilots, an American employee and a journalist – calmly descend the steps into the New Mexico sun.

Lines of planes stretch for nearly as far as the eye can see. Many bear familiar logos. Most planes are intact – but not all of them. Reams of airplane parts lay strewn nearby across the desert floor.

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“They affectionately call this the boneyard,” says Martin Testorff, one of American’s aircraft storage managers based here.

The “boneyard” is the colloquial term given to aircraft storage facilities where out-of-use planes are sent to be sold, stored or scrapped. Most are in arid locations such as California or Arizona. The one here in New Mexico – officially the Roswell International Air Center – is the preferred facility for American.

The Center’s sprawling grounds sit adjacent to Roswell’s tiny airport terminal, where American is the only carrier currently offering regular scheduled passenger flights – three per day to Dallas/Fort Worth and one to Phoenix.

But it’s the flow of older, retiring jets that are the real lifeblood of the Roswell International Air Center.

Planes can sit indefinitely in storage here, where the dry desert air helps keep the idle aircraft from corroding. Some find second lives, taken in by cargo carriers or by smaller airlines in the developing world. Others face a stark end – raided for parts or scrapped altogether.

Whatever fate awaits, Testorff says, “We take good care of our airplanes out here.”

American isn’t the only carrier to retire its planes to Roswell, one of about a half-dozen such facilities in the United States. Several Boeing 777s from Asian discount carrier Scoot are visible during one recent visit. As is an old Thai Airways Airbus A300 and a Boeing 727 with a long-faded paint job.

There are private aircraft, too, including a red 1962 Lockheed JetStar JT 12-5 that once flew Elvis, according to American’s staff at Roswell.

But most of the planes currently on the ground here have come from American. And for good reason: The airline is phasing out its once-vast fleet of MD-80 and Boeing 757 jets, retiring those older models as part of an aggressive fleet-renewal plan.

The retirement of the MD-80 – long the backbone of American’s domestic fleet – has been especially prolific. The carrier once had more than 370 “Super 80s,” as American refers to them, in its fleet. But they’re scheduled to be phased out by 2017, replaced by modern new Boeing and Airbus jets.

The airline has been sending its MD-80s to the Roswell boneyard since 2003, with the rate increasing in the past two years to about one retirement a week.

The stored planes have become especially important for American for as long as the last MD-80s and 757s remain in its active fleet. Both planes have long been out of production, meaning parts can be difficult to track down if maintenance is needed. This makes their idled brethren in Roswell a crucial link to keeping the others flying.

“We store them so we can use the material for the fleet, to keep the fleet flying,” says Paul Bahle, manager of aircraft disposition for American Airlines.

While the MD-80 is the current headliner for American at Roswell, the airline retires other aircraft types here too, including 757s and a few 767s.

Leased planes are returned “and we sell as many as the owned assets as we can. But as you can see, we keep quite a lot of them out here,” Bahle says.

Beyond the business side of the boneyard, there’s plenty of interest in the facility from aviation enthusiasts.

“We get more requests for tours than probably Disneyland,” Testorff says, even though the facility is not open to the public.

“They (people) always want to come see it and experience it for themselves,” adds Bahle. “To see an airline in kind of a different light. They just want to come out and see the planes in different states of disrepair.”

Pat Walsh – the captain on Flight 9780 that brought yet another American MD-80 to “the Boneyard” – has been here previously. Even he’s eager for another look.

“All the airlines that have come and gone over the years,” Walsh says, reminiscing about a previous visit. “Pan Am, TWA and Braniff brought back a lot of memories … those carriers I remember as a kid.”

“And now there are American Airlines airplanes as we’re getting new airplanes and retiring our older ones,” he adds, bringing his visit full circle.