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Hotel industry blasts proposed Obama ethics rule

The rule would lower attendance at events held at hotels, the group says. Also: John Wayne Airport to get new body scanners, and Virgin Atlantic is phasing out plane-shaped salt and pepper shakers.

October 24, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles International Airport still uses full-body scanners that create what looks like a nude image of passengers. John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana is getting machines that don't create such images.
Los Angeles International Airport still uses full-body scanners that… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)

Just as the U.S. hotel industry begins to recover from the recession, industry leaders say they are being sabotaged by the Obama administration.

The charge centers on a new rule proposed by Obama's Office of Government Ethics that would prohibit most federal employees from accepting free admission to conferences and other gatherings held by businesses or organizations that lobby the government.

The American Hotel & Lodging Assn., the trade group that represents the nation's hotels, blasted the proposed rule, saying it is unneeded and would prevent federal employees from mingling with people to learn about trends and problems in the country.

On top of that, the trade group says, the rule would cut down on attendance to conventions, trade shows and other gatherings, mostly held in hotels. The group worries that the rule would hurt an industry that has just begun to rebound from one of the worst periods in decades.

"Hotels are often the sites for conferences and events that federal employees would be banned from attending, thereby creating a direct negative impact to our business," association President Joe McInerney said in a statement. "This would have grave consequences for hotels, the economy and the millions of workers our industry employs."

The dispute comes as the hotel industry begins to show signs of rebounding from the recession. Room revenues for 2011 are expected to rise 7.2% over last year, according to a forecast by PKF Hospitality Research in Atlanta.

The Office of Government Ethics said it proposed the rule because federal employees of the executive branch who get free attendance to an event, particularly a gala or a concert, receive a gift they "will enjoy in the very company of the lobbyist."

The rule would allow some exemptions, including events held by the media or nonprofit groups. The public has until Nov. 14 to comment on the rule by going to http://federalregister.gov/a/2011-23311.

Employees who violate the regulation could be demoted or fired.

John Wayne Airport to get new body scanners

John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana will be the latest Southern California airport to receive full-body scanners that can screen passengers without creating what looks like a nude image of them.

The Transportation Security Administration confirmed last week that the agency plans to install the scanners at all three of the airport's terminals, including the new Terminal C set to open next month.

The machines use a technology called millimeter wave to spot objects hidden under passengers' clothes. With a new software upgrade, the machine shows a picture of a generic passenger and highlights a part of the picture to indicate that a hidden object may be found there.

Similar machines are in use at Ontario International Airport, as well as in dozens of other airports nationwide.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles International Airport — the nation's fifth-busiest airport — still uses the machines that create what looks like a nude image of passengers. Those machines use a different technology, known as backscatter, and the TSA has not approved a software upgrade for those machines. TSA officials say they hope to have a software upgrade approved for the backscatter machines in the next few months.

Virgin phasing out plane-shaped shakers

If you haven't already pilfered those cute aircraft-shaped salt and pepper shakers from a Virgin Atlantic Airways flight, your time is running out.

The London airline announced recently that it is phasing out the popular shakers in its "upper-class" section as part of a plan to revamp the cutlery and dishware collection in that section next month.

The shakers have been so popular with sticky-fingered passengers that the airline previously emblazoned the words "Pinched from Virgin Atlantic." on the bottom of the shakers.

The online auction site EBay recently showed dozens of listings for the shakers, selling for as much as $78 a set.

The decision to phase out the shakers had nothing to do with the thievery problem, an airline spokesman said. "It was just a matter of revamping."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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