About Me

Steven Frischling
Live: HVN
Work: JFK-SFO-CDG-HKG
Contact Me

Fish has been covering aviation and transportation security issues since September 15, 2001, after walking away from Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan following four days of documenting the worst aviation security disaster in history.

Having spent more than a decade-and-a-half as a full-time photojournalist, Fish now divides his time between building social media and social commerce strategies and solutions for global travel brands, along with researching aviation and transportation security.

Growing up at the end up New York's JFK International Airport's Runway 4R/22L probably explains Fish’s enjoyment of watching planes fly overhead. When not working or shooting photos, Fish can be found playing with (and cleaning up after) his three kids, chasing his dogs, standing in the kitchen cooking, monitoring radios public safety and federal radios and of course cheering for the Red Sox.

You can find Fish on Twitter at @flyingwithfish …and … join Fish every Thursday at 3:30pm EST as he hosts the weekly #TNI #Travel Chat on Twitter.

In Flight Hacking, Yet Again … Despite Reports It’s Still Unlikely

Back in early April 2013 Hugo Tess, a German IT Security Consultant, made the claims that he was able to bypass two security flaws in the systems that handle aircraft communications using an Android App. The problem with Mr. Tess’ claims were that while he did hack a real in-flight computer system, it was a replica in an ground based simulator for flight training, and as such the flight system computer does not have the same security features as those found on board an aircraft.

 

Now here we are again and experts are again claiming to be able to control aircraft through hacking, this time the claims come from Chris Roberts, a cybersecurity consultant.   Mr. Roberts has reportedly told the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that he has been able to hack into flight systems of aircraft while on board flights as many as 20 times between 2011 and 2014, and is capable of taking advantage of security vulnerabilities on three different types of Boeing aircraft and one type of Airbus aircraft.

 

Among Mr. Robert’s claims, he says he has been able to hack the inflight systems then over write the code allowing him to manipulate the engines to climb, resulting in the aircraft moving sideways during flight.

 

Now here is where there are issues with Mr. Robert’s claims

 

1) Inflight entertainment systems on board aircraft come from many different manufacturers. With literally thousands of Boeing 737s flying the skies, they have many different variants and manufacturers of their in flight entertainment, so what may work on one 737 won’t work on another

 

2) In flight entertainment systems, and their related boxes under passenger seats, are not interconnected with the flight computer or navigation computers.   The in-flight map information may be shared, but access to the flight controls are entirely different. Should one change the flight computer, that information would need to be manually approved by the pilots.

 

3) Aircraft have redundant flight computers and controls. The redundancy is not to prevent hacking, but to ensure everything is working the way it is supposed to work

 

4) In regard to claiming vulnerability on one type of Airbus … the A318/319/320/321 are all one variant of aircraft. the A330/340 are essentially one variant of aircraft. The only Airbus in the sky that is on its own in their family is the A380 (not counting the brand new A350).   So if you knew of a weakness in the A320 that is vulnerability in four aircraft types … but there are many different types of in flight entertainment from many different vendors, and these in flight entertainment systems, like Boeing, are not related to the flight computers.

 

I would love to see the final results of the FBI investigation, which will likely uncover that Mr. Roberts was in fact playing with a computer onboard the aircraft, but not controlling that aircraft’s engines or flight management.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

Revisiting Photography & TSA Checkpoints … It’s Still Legal

Twice in the past week I have had photographers ask me about the legality of photographing Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints, each having had run-ins at two different airports.

While photographers continue to face confrontation from TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSO), their superiors, and law enforcement, as the shoot photographs at checkpoints, regardless of whether they are credentials professional members of the media, or parents photographing there children as they head through the airport, the fact remains that there are no restrictions on photographing at TSA security checkpoints within airports. Yes, some terminals claims photography is prohibited as the terminal is private property, but that doesn’t really apply to Mom and Dad photographing their kids , and yes the TSA requests that people not photograph X-Ray monitors, but that is a request not something written into the law.

For those who need a quick reference to the TSA’s policy on photography, the agency has buried on their website under How To Get Through The Line Faster, however you need to scroll all the way to the bottom.

Travelers and photographers alike can also read the TSA’s policy on photography, which was posted on the 31st of March 2009 to the agency’s blog, Can I Take Photos At The Checkpoint And The Airport?

It is important to be aware of local state statutes and laws, as well as and jurisdictional ordinances that may prohibit photography within the airport … and law enforcement would really have to make it a stretch to tell anyone it is a crime if

So, if you want to document your way through the TSA checkpoint experience, have at it … just make sure you don’t slow up the line and be prepared to be questioned.

If you find yourself dealing with the TSA or law enforcement at a checkpoint  you can always contact the agency’s Ombudsman at +1(571)227-2383. Members of the media encountering an issue while photographing or shooting video at a check point can contact the TSA’s Public Affairs Office at +1(571)227-2829.

Happy Flying!

@flyingwithfish

US Airways Flies Into That Long GoodNight … So Long Cactus

As I sit here writing this there is only one thing on my screen aside from this text document, a Flightradar24.com map tracking N206UW, a Boeing 757-2B7, flying from London’s Heathrow Airport to Philadelphia International Airport … the last US Airways flight, the last time the call sign “Cactus” will be officially used.

 

I had an on-again-off-again love-hate relationship with US Airways, that started as America West and US Airways merged. In 2005 I was living in Connecticut, working in San Francisco, and while I primarily flew Delta Air Lines, I found myself flying America West … who used the call sign of Cactus … often two or three times a week. I joined America West’s frequent flyer program FlightFund, just as it merged with US Airways’ Dividend Miles. When Delta Air Lines ceased service to New Haven’s Tweed Airport, the airport closest to my home, leaving only US Airways, I often found myself at odds with US Airways, even as a “Chairman” for a year and “Platinum” for another two years. I enjoyed America West, but US Airways not so much, and the divide within the airline once they merged was often obvious. “US East,” originally US Airways was often indifferent to passengers, where as “US West” the former America West was had fantastic customer service. The cultures of the two companies could not have been more difference.

 

Finding myself on board four US Airways flights a week for more than two years, as annoyed as I was by US Airways, I became fond of hearing the Cactus call sign, which carried over from America West.

 

At this moment, as I track the flight is passing over the beach in my town. I can hear the sporadic radio chatter and barely catch a glimpse; it is the only aircraft directly overhead. Next time this flight passes by on her journey home to Philadelphia from London, it will be an American Airlines flight, not a Cactus.

 

Roughly two years after the merger between US Airways and American Airlines, the two airlines are now operating under a single operating certificate as of today and we must say goodbye to US Airways and Cactus.

 

One more callsign flies off into that long goodnight.

 

Below is a photo of me enjoying my flight west on America West and a screen shot of the last Cactus flight as it passes over where I live … So Long Cactus.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

AWE774_Niantic

 

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How Aviation Literally Saved My Life … Thank You Life Star

Among AvGeeks and people in the aviation industry you’ll often hear things about aviation being their life, or they live for flying, or any variation of those notions … however for me, on the 20th of February 2015 aviation literally saved my life.

 

I don’t tend to delve into public safety aviation, I enjoy watching it, but it isn’t what I love, it isn’t what I research and write about, but I can safely say, I have a new found love for the aero-medical community.

 

On Friday the 20th of February I went to my local hospital, just 6.6 miles from my front door for a fairly routine procedure, something I have had performed many times before. I generally show up, get knocked out, whole thing takes 15 minutes, I sleep it off for three hours, and I go home … this was not to be the case this day. As was normal, I went in, got knocked out, something didn’t go as planned, my esophagus was perforated, I went into respiratory arrest and had a very narrow window of time to get in front of a thoracic surgeon.   My local hospital has no thoracic surgeon.

 

The nearest hospital with the facilities I needed is 49 miles away, on a Friday that hour drive, even going lights and sirens can be more than an hour, so Hartford Hospital’s Life Star medevac was called to fly me from hospital to hospital.

 

Without Life Star’s flight nurse and flight respiratory therapist, things probably would have gone very differently for me that day. Now, after a few weeks of in and out of the ICU, back and for with the hospital, and three trips to the operating room, life is getting back to normal and I owe it in large part due to aviation.

 

I have absolutely no recollection of the flight, which normally I would say is a shame, I love going up in helicopters, but I woke up 26hrs later with a tube down my throat, a vent breathing for me, and a metal stent inserted into my esophagus, so it is probably a good thing I was completely unconscious for the flight out over Long Island Sound that afternoon.

 

So … with that said … Dear Hartford Hospital Life Star, THANK YOU!

 

Happy Flying

@flyingwithfish

I’ve Always Said, If You Want To Sneak A Knife On A Plane … Disguise It As A Gun

Today’s travel moron of the week goes to a passenger at Baltimore Washington International Airport. There is not much more that can be said beyond … who tries to sneak a knife through airport security disguised as a gun?

 

Does this count as a double catch for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Transportation Security Officer (TSO), for stopping both a knife and a gun from passing through the security screening checkpoint?

 

Below is the TSA’s photo from BWI Airport.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

 

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Passport Stamps … We All Love Them, Except The Ones We Hate

Most travelers cherish their passport stamps, even the seemingly nonchalant business road warriors. A new passport, void of stamps, feels empty, as if you’ve been stripped of your traveler validity … but … sometimes certain stamps in your passport can cause some issues.

 

Yes, there are stamps from countries that can prohibit you from visiting another country, requiring some creativity to get around, and certain visas that cause questions, but recently for me, one stamp in particular in the lower right hand corner of one page has been causing issues.

 

The stamp in question is from my arrival in Taipei, Taiwan. The first problem this stamped caused was upon entry into Incheon, South Korea and a day or so later upon arrival in Guangzhou, in Mainland China. The issue was not that I had visited the Republic of China while enroute the People’s Republic of China … the issue was this … the stamp had been marked “VOID” upon arrival.

 

I do have a valid stamp from my arrival in Taipei, but everyone glances over that and seems to focus on the one marked void for reasons beyond my control.   The reason it was stamped VOID? Apparently the passport control officer in Taiwan didn’t stamp it on the right page … is there even a right page? I have seen agents stamp random pages, my back cover page, the intro-page over text … so what the heck is the wrong page?

 

Twice now upon entry back into the United States, where I am from and my passport is from, I have been sent off to a brief secondary screening by Customs and Border Protection due to the VOID stamp from Taiwan.

 

Have you experienced an issue with a stamp in your passport causing you some troubles? If so, share your stories in the comments.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

 

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Hassled At The Airport? It’s Not Always TSA … Exploring This Topic Once Again

Who is to blame, or at least complain about, at the airport? This is a topic that has been discussed before, but one that seems to need repeating. Reading my email, following Twitter and other online travel conversations, it seems that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are to blame for everything.

 

Yes, granted, dealing with the TSA can be a challenge at times, and the agency isn’t always known to employ the friendliest people, but there is plenty of blame to go around … and i’m not even sure where to start, so I’ll just go over the basics.

 

Passengers typically only encounter the TSA at the security screening checkpoint. TSA staff may be found in the departures areas and around the gates, but they do not often venture further from these areas, with the exception of K-9 units and Behaviour Detection Officers (BDO). TSA Uniforms are distinct, for starters with the exception of the limited number of TSA staff that are not unformed, the front line staff wear bright blue shirts, on the right shoulder is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Transportation Security Administration circular patch, on the left shoulder is a circular patch with a black and white eagle racing through the United States Flag, with the words “Integrity * Team * Spirit * Innovation” and Transportation Security Administration“. On every uniforms shoulder, even the dark blue sweater or vests are epaulettes that read “TSA.”

 

With basics of the TSA uniform out of the way … let me dig into this …

 

First off, the person who may meet you at the curb and take your baggage to check it in is not a member of the TSA. This person is a SkyCap (sometimes referred to as a RedCap, but red caps are at train stations, SkyCaps are at the airport). As SkyCaps work for tips, they generally are very accommodating and polite, but should you encounter one that is rude … they are not part of the TSA.

 

So saying “The TSA took my bag at the curb and didn’t properly tag my bag” is incorrect. The TSA never touched your bag at the curb, and the TSA doesn’t tag checked baggage.

 

TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are not armed. There are some armed members of the TSA, from the Office of Law Enforcement, but they do not typically work security checkpoints. If you see someone in a blue uniform, with a badge on their shirt and a gun in an airport, typically they are a police officer. They may be another Federal Agency, but at security screening, uniforms and funs tend to police officers.

 

Should you have a negative encounter at a screening checkpoint, stating that you felt intimidated by a TSA TSO because they kept placing their hand on their gun, would be incorrect. No TSA TSO would have a gun to place their hand on. You were dealing with some member of law enforcement and TSA TSOs are not law enforcement.

 

The people outside terminals handling traffic control and parking are typically from a Traffic Control unit, Police or Private Security working with the airport. The TSA does not handle traffic or parking issues.

 

Complaining that the TSA had your car towed from outside the airport while you went to drop your bags is incorrect.

 

The TSA doesn’t have cars towed and no commercial airport in the United States has allowed curbside parking in more than a decade. You can park for a moment if your car is attended. In some rare instances, you may somehow get someone to say you can walk into the terminal for a moment, but that is rare … but if you just parked your car and just walked inside, chances are the police or airport authority had your car towed … not to mention … how long were you inside the terminal that a tow truck could have been called, arrived and hauled your car off???

 

As for the TSA and arrivals … for starters, the TSA does not handle international arrivals, nor does the handle deportations.

 

Yes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the TSA’s parent agency, but if you encounter an interview upon arrival, while walking from your flight to passport control, or some issue with passport control, the TSA was not involved. If this happened to you, you encountered Customs and Border Protection (CBP), also a DHS agency.

 

At no time did the TSA refuse to stamp anyone’s passport and send them to secondary.

 

As you pick up your luggage from an international flight and walk towards the exit with the your CBP 6059B Customs Declaration Card the TSA is no where to be found. Should you find a Beagle sniffing your bag and someone asking you to open your bags, you have encountered the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) ’Beagle Brigade.’   The USDA’s APHIS works in conjunction with CBP and wears the same DHS uniform.   TSA didn’t ask you to open your bag, TSA didn’t question you … the USDA APHIS did, and you should have properly declared what was in your baggage.

 

Yes, the TSA is easy to blame, and they can blamed for many of their own issues, but there are plenty of agencies travelers can complain about when traveling within the United States.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

 

Travel Humour : Haggling For Your Visa & Your Name Is What?

Travel is inherently laced with humourous moments. Some moments may not seem funny at first, but after the stress of the moment is gone, you can look back and laugh.

 

In 2014 I had the good fortune, at least in hindsight, to laugh a lot during my travels … today I’d like to look back at one such quick business trip Nairobi, Kenya.   Before I dig into this situation that still has me laughing, I have to say I cannot wait to go back to Kenya and spend more than 17 hours in this gorgeous country, that has some seriously tasty food … but anyway …

 

The entry visa on arrival into Kenya for American citizens is US$50, as I was flying to Kenya from China, via Thailand, I arrived with the visa-on-arrival fee in Kenyan Shillings, rather than U.S. Dollars … big mistake. As I went to pay for the visa the Government Official refused the Shillings and told me she would only accept U.S. Dollars or “maybe Euros.”

 

Following a brief back and forth conversation the Government Official, she asked me how much money I had in U.S. Dollars and I answered that I had a $20 bill. She looked me in the eyes, nodded, and said, “That’ll do”, then took my $20. Rather than a Single Entry Visa being placed in my passport, I was instead issued Transit Visa and waived me along.

 

As unusual as that exchange was, while obtaining a visa on arrival in Nairobi, it wasn’t until I had left the airport and opened my passport to the page with the visa that I realized exactly how funny this whole situation was … why you ask? Well let me tell you why …

 

On the first line of the visa it simply says “Name”, and according to my Kenyan visa my whole name is “Eric.” No last name, just Eric … of course that is only relevant if we ignore the fact that my name is Steven.

 

Below a photo of my visa from Kenya, one that caused a few questions upon arrival in Amsterdam, Argentina and back home in the United States.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

Kenya_Visa

Captured Guns At Airport Checkpoints Up 22% … Are Travelers Getting Dumber?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began its organized reporting of firearms in 2006, a year in which the agency’s front line Transportation Security Officers (TSO) seized 660 guns at checkpoints. Here we are in 2015, with a look back at 2014’s numbers, where TSA TSOs seized 2,212 firearms passengers attempted to bring on board aircraft in their carry-on bags.

 

On the one hand, yes, the TSA has improved its front line screening of passengers, however, spotting guns has never been a real challenge for those monitoring the x-ray screening. Even the most poorly trained TSO can spot a gun … which leads to think one glaring question …

 

… are travelers in the United States just getting dumber?

 

You know what is even worse? 83% of the 2,212 firearms seized by the TSA at checkpoints, placed in carry-on bags, were loaded.

 

This is not a Second Amendment debate. Of the 2,212 guns in the TSA’s year end wrap up numbers all were stopped at passenger check points, not in checked bags. These numbers do not reflect seized weapons that law enforcement recovered from improperly declared checked bags … this is just from carry-ons.

 

At what point does someone forget they have a gun in their briefcase? How does a woman forget she has a fully loaded semiautomatic 9mm pistol in her purse?

 

OK … granted, 2,212 seized firearms from carry on baggage only accounts for roughly 0.0149% of all passengers screened in the United States … but this comes out to roughly six guns per day.

 

So now, having read through the full 2014 annual review from the TSA, I’d like to offer you, the traveling public, some general tips …

 

1) Unless you are law enforcement, and have completed the ‘Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed” training, as per Title 49 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) § 1544.219, Carriage of Accessible Weapons, and have submitted a National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System Message prior to travel … or are a Federal Air Marshals, Federal Flight Deck Officer or a select Law Enforcement or Government Officials … YOU ARE NOT GETTING ON A COMMERCIAL AIRLINE FLIGHT WITH YOUR GUN

 

2) Putting aside the obvious fact that an assault rifle is not allowed in your carry on … keep this in mind … if your M4 carbine rifle, and related loaded magazines, are stored in a case that exceeds the maximum carry on length of the airline you are flying on, it wouldn’t be allowed as carry on, even if you weren’t trying to fly with a rifle as your carry on.

 

3) Common logic … placing duct tape on your grenade will not effectively disguise it from the passenger screening x-ray scanners. It just looks like a grenade wrapped in duct tape.

 

4) Any sold putty material will show up as a “brick” on the scanner and will be required to be hand searched.   Any putty marked as “C-4”, yea that’s not getting on the plane and you’re having a conversation with law enforcement.

 

5) If you need to travel with an improvised explosives device (IED) training kit, consider traveling with it completely disassembled, and packed in separate checked bags so it doesn’t look like ball bearings packed in putty, attached to a detonator, placed inside a deployment package.   You know what … just ship those components in 4 or 5 separate boxes. It ain’t getting on a plane.

 

6) If you must try and see if you can slip a gun through an airport passenger screening checkpoint, at least have the brains to not have the loaded firearm holstered to your body.

 

I love people watching in airports. Airports to me are the greatest place to sit, listen and observe … but the more I sit in some airports and watch and listen, the more I am convinced that as a whole we’re just getting dumber and dumber.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

The Illusion Of Transportation Security

Fences, concrete barriers and checkpoints surround airports, seaport docks and access points to railroad yards.   Securing mass transit and cargo shipping falls to multiple agencies … but gaps still exist. The far and distant corners of some airports have crumbling fences, or no fencing along waterways. Nearly all commercial and passenger seaports are vulnerable from the water and railroads have vast sections of unprotected stretches of tracks.

 

Securing transportation in the United States, and The World, is extremely important, but the more I dig, the more I find gaps. Some transportation security gaps are hard to spot, but blatant, such as gaps in the fence near the U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices at New York’s JFK International Airport; the ability to easily walk through a metal detector offered by TSA PreCheck with a 20oz bottle of liquid hidden in deep pant pockets … but today I was reminded about not just what some refer to as ‘Security Theater.’

 

Personally I tend to avoid the term ‘Security Theater.’ There are many aspects to aviation security the general public sees as useless that is actually functional. Yes, not everything does what security agencies would like you to believe they do … but overall I think ‘Security Theater’ is just a catchy term for many things that aren’t actually theater.

 

Today, while doing some research on the overall view of Transportation Security I encountered something I have seen before, but today it really stuck with me. What I drove up upon is it something found along railroad depots all around the Northeast Corridor, and from what I can tell, all over the United States. As I stood looking at what was in front of me, the whole concept of The Illusion of Transportation Security raced through my head.

 

So what was I staring at?

 

A muddy driveway from a roadway into an area of three mainline Amtrak Tracks, mainline signals, switch tracks, a few freight sidings and two freight spurs. The drive way is lined with barbed wire fencing, along with signs stating that entry into the driveway is prohibited … however … there is no gate. There is no way to close off the muddy driveway. The fencing just ends and leaves the area it is protecting wide open.

 

I spent 15 minutes walking around, studying the area, looking in all directions. I walked into the open driveway. I drove my truck into the open driveway. There are no cameras on the entryway, there is no lighting in this area, an area where electric high speed trains race through the switch tracks as they share the lines with electric regional trains, diesel commuter trains and freight trains.

 

What is the purpose of fencing and barbed wire if there is no need to climb the fence? Forget climbing the fence, anyone can just drive their vehicle right in, up to the tracks, up to the signals, up to the overhead power lines.

 

The purpose is The Illusion Of Transportation Security. If someone sees the barbed wire fence, it appears that the area is protected, but at this depot the reality is so many different entities need to have access that it would be impossible for everyone who needed to enter the area have a key.

 

So rather than install a fence, with a gate, that locks, the solution was just an open corridor of foreboding chain link fencing and barbed wire.

 

In general when people think of transportation security they think of airports and air travel, but the need to secure railroads and ships is just as vital.   Nothing can really stop people dead-set of causing havoc, many will always find a way, and we as a society cannot protect everyone and everything, but if there an effort to make something appear secure and it is not secure, the threat actually increases as people try and exploit that Illusion Of Transportation Security.

 

Look around; I am sure you’ll see it also.

 

Below is my photo of the barbed wire fencing that provides no security along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

 

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