Go online for latest news on airport security, restrictions

Strategies

August 20, 2006|By DARREN M. GREEN | DARREN M. GREEN,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The world of flying has changed drastically in the past week and a half, with every day seeming to bring new changes. Here are some Web sites that can keep you updated on changes in airport security and carry-on restrictions -- as well as track and navigate flight delays and cancellations.

TSA.GOV -- The Transportation Security Administration's Web site, which offers a number of useful tools for traveling during turbulent times, is a good place to start in researching the lay of the land. Click on the "What to Know Before You Fly - Prohibited Items" link along the right side of the home page to read an up-to-the-minute summary regarding items you will not be able to carry onto the plane. Check back often because restrictions are expected to change over time. If you need to ask a question, click on the button in the "ResourceCenter," which yields a litany of question-and-answer categories intended to clear up some of the misinformation circulating over the past couple of weeks. For example, a click on the "Laptops, Cell Phones and Other Electronic Items" link reveals that these items are still permitted as carry-ons, contrary to a number of published reports. Click on "Helpful Tips" to find the expected security checkpoint wait times based on the airport, day of week and time of travel.

WWW.DHS.GOV/DHSPUBLIC --Check out the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Web site to learn more about the current threat level, which, as of Thursday, was at "Code Yellow" for U.S.-bound flights originating in the United Kingdom and for all domestic flights. Click on the "Threat Advisory" link to learn what each threat level means, and to review recommended activities for all Americans planning to travel in the coming months.

faa.gov --The information available at the Federal Aviation Administration Web site overlaps in large part with the sites listed above; however, the FAA site also offers an informative interactive delays map behind the "Airport Status and Delay" link. Scroll over the airports listed for an update on airport-wide flight arrival and departure delays.

ASK.COM --Travel search queries entered at Ask.com not only generate the usual and customary search engine results, but also pull up information targeted to current-day travel issues. For example, a search of "United Airlines" pulls up a box where travelers can check on the status of a particular flight directly from the Ask.com site. A search of "Dulles International Airport" yields a table showing possible flight delays broken down by time of day.

FLYTECOMM.COM --The best defense against spending six hours at the airport because of a flight delay (unfortunately a rather common occurrence with heightened security) is preparedness, and Flytecomm.com is among the best resources to get real-time information. FlyteComm pulls information from dozens of data sources in anticipating and reporting on flight delays, and serves as a one-stop-shop for those looking for updates on multiple flights or multiple airlines. Travelers can track a flight directly at the Web site, or even better, directly from their cell phone. mFoundry, a pioneer in bringing travel and other information to cell phones, has partnered with FlyteComm to enable Sprint, Cingular and Nextel to offer their customers access to real-time flight data using a mobile application called FlyteSource Mobile. Check out moblets.mfoundry.com (and scroll down to the FlyteSource entry) or contact your wireless carrier to learn more about purchasing FlyteSource Mobile for your phone.

Other Web sites --Other online resources can also be of assistance to those traveling in the coming months. Local newspapers often provide details regarding their geographic areas of coverage that may not be available elsewhere. Check out newsdirect ory.com to find the Web sites for thousands of newspapers. If your plans include a stop in the United Kingdom, spend a few minutes at www.fco.gov.uk, which is the Web site for the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (somewhat akin to the U.S. State Department). The "Travel Advice" link may prove useful in preparing for your departure back to the United States.

Finally, if you still have a few nagging concerns about a particular destination or the means by which you intend to get there, post a "thorn" at Lonely Planet's bustling virtual "Thorn Tree" (thorntree.lonelyplanet.com). Here you can pick the brain of other travelers who have just flown through the airport that troubles you or visited your anticipated destination.

Darren M. Green is a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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