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Overhead bins getting bigger on some airlines

American, United and Delta are providing more space for carry-ons or planning to do so. Also, 2012 looks to be a big year for conventions and a video purportedly exposes a hole in airport security.

March 12, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • A still image taken from a video titled "How to Get Anything Through TSA Nude Body Scanners" posted by Jonathan Corbett on YouTube and his own website.
A still image taken from a video titled "How to Get Anything Through… (www.tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com )

Airline overhead bins, increasingly stuffed to capacity, are getting bigger.

But the big surprise may be that the airlines offering larger bins are not sticking passengers with new fees for the extra space. At least not yet.

Oversized bins can be found on many of American Airlines' new Boeing 737-800s, which were deployed starting in May with a new interior design. The new overhead bins pivot down and out and can hold as many as 48 more bags per flight than standard bins.

Starting in April, United Airlines plans to replace the bin doors on 152 planes with new ones that curve out, providing more interior space. With the new doors, bins on United's Airbus A320s will hold 106 typical roll-on bags, up from 64 bags in the traditional bins.

Meanwhile, international passengers will also find bigger storage bins on Delta Air Lines' Boeing 767-300ER planes, flying on long-haul routes. The bins hold 26 more bags than the old ones, a 23% increase.

Why would airlines offer more space for carry-on bags when the nation's largest airlines stand to make billions by having passengers check their bags? They collected $2.5 billion in checked-bag fees in the first nine months of 2011.

United says customer surveys have shown that if passengers have a problem during the boarding process — such as struggling to find luggage space in the overhead bin — they tend to have negative feelings about the entire flight.

"We want the boarding process to be so smooth that it is otherwise not memorable," United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith offered a similar reasoning for the larger bins.

"While we don't release the exact figures, there is a revenue benefit to American to increase the overhead bin storage space," he said. "American Airlines is committed to investing in its products and services to improve the travel experience for its customers."

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Conventions and conferences will be big in 2012

It looks like 2012 is shaping up to be a big year for conventions and conferences.

Room bookings for groups are up nearly 6% from February 2012 to January 2013 compared with the same period in 2011-12, according to data from TravelClick, a New York company that provides e-commerce products and services to the hotel industry.

The good news for people who go to conferences and conventions is that daily group rates for the rest of the year are down 1.1%, according to TravelClick.

So what cities will play host to the most meetings this year? Perhaps it's no surprise that Charlotte, N.C., has already recorded a 50.3% increase in group bookings for the year compared with last year because the city is scheduled to be the site of the Democratic National Convention the week of Sept. 3.

Another jump in group bookings this year, according to TravelClick, is taking place in Tampa, Fla., where bookings are up 15.1% over the same period last year. Tampa is scheduled to host the Republican National Convention the week of Aug. 27.

Group bookings are up 15.3% in Houston, which will the host of several smaller gatherings, including a conference for Microsoft Corp.customers and partners, a gathering of oil-and-gas industry representatives and workers who keep the nation's Starbucks stores dispensing caffeine-fueled drinks.

In California, group bookings for 2012 are up 5.2% in Los Angeles. 7.3% in San Francisco and 9.6% in San Diego.

TSA responds to claims of hole in airport security system

When an online video gets more than 1 million views, it's hard to ignore.

That may be the reason the Transportation Security Administration took the unusual step last week to address an online video that purports to show how to circumvent the full-body scanners that the TSA has installed at 140 airports across the country.

Jonathan Corbett, a blogger and TSA critic, posted a video titled "How to Get Anything Through TSA Nude Body Scanners" this month on YouTube and his own blog, http://www.tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com,.

To prove that his method works, Corbett's video shows him sneaking a small metal box past full-body scanners at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Ohio. "The TSA can't be that stupid, can they?" Corbett asks in the video.

The TSA responded on its own blog, calling the video "a crude attempt to allegedly show how to circumvent TSA screening procedures."

The TSA does not dispute that Corbett found a way to sneak items past the screening machines but added that the scanners are one of many techniques the TSA uses to keep weapons off planes. The TSA also uses pat-down searches, behavior detection experts, explosive detection units, specially trained dogs and armed federal marshals.

The scanners, the TSA said, are "not a machine that has all the tools we need in one handy device. We've never claimed it's the end all, be all."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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