TSA Relaxes Carry-On Rules

*Virgin Goes Green
*Amadeus/Northwest Agreement
*Virtuoso's MastCard

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently relaxed its rules for airplane carry-on items and said it would allow airline passengers to carry small amounts of liquids, gels and aerosols onboard. Effective Sept. 26, travelers are allowed to carry travel-sized toiletries of three ounces or less if they are contained in one quart-sized, clear plastic zip-top bag.

Additionally, beverages purchased in the secure areas of the airport can now be taken on the aircraft.

The TSA said it was “unlikely” that the restrictions on liquids and gels would be changed further in the near future.

Kip Hawley, the TSA’s assistant secretary, said in a statement that the agency had “learned enough from the U.K. investigation to say with confidence that small, travel-size liquids are safe to bring through security checkpoints in limited numbers.”

Larger amounts of required medications, baby formula and diabetic glucose treatments have been exempt from the liquid ban, although travelers must present them to screeners at security checkpoints.

On Sept. 25, the TSA said it also would be enhancing security measures throughout airports, including adding more random screening of employees, more canine patrols and tighter cargo screening and deploying more officers trained in bomb appraisal and screening by observation techniques.

With former President Bill Clinton looking on, Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson recently pledged to use $3 billion from the profits of the Virgin Group airlines and Virgin trains over the next decade to spur the development of renewable energy sources and to combat global warming.

In a press conference at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York, Branson said the money would be poured into a new investment unit, Virgin Fuels. “We must rapidly wean ourselves off our dependence on coal and fossil fuels,” Branson said.

Branson’s $3 billion pledge closely followed the Virgin conglomerate’s announcement about the formation of Virgin Fuels, which puts into practice the Virgin chairman’s belief that transportation companies should be in the forefront of backing the development of clean energy sources. Branson said Virgin Fuels would invest $400 million in targeted companies’ renewable-energy projects over the next three years.

The first recipient of Virgin Fuel funding is Goshen, Calif.-headquartered Cilion, which aims to build and operate ethanol plants that would reduce the need to use fossil fuel in ethanol production.

“This is only the beginning of our investment program, which begins in the U.S. and will expand to the U.K., mainland Europe and other parts of the world,” Branson stated, adding that Virgin Fuel would set its sights beyond ethanol and invest in other biofuel projects.

Amadeus and Northwest reached a “provisional agreement,” retroactive to Sept. 1, that protects Amadeus agents from Northwest’s $3.50 fees and retains access to “full content” from Northwest and KLM, Amadeus stated. Amadeus agencies in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will not be receiving bills from the airline for bookings they made in September. Northwest previously said that it would charge agencies fees for booking through Amadeus because the distribution system had not agreed to a competitive content agreement.

The temporary agreement announced designates Amadeus as a preferred distribution channel for Northwest, and the two parties are working on a long-term contract.

“This agreement is another example of our ongoing commitment to make our product widely, easily and affordably available to consumers in ways that provide Northwest with competitive distribution cost economics,” stated Al Lenza, Northwest’s vice president of distribution and e-commerce. “It also ensures our travel agency partners of both full content and protection from having to pay segment surcharges.”

Terms of the interim agreement were not disclosed.

For now, however, the two sides decided to postpone any further legal battles over the issue, pending the conclusion of a longer-term agreement.

Prior to the provisional agreement, Amadeus, facing pressure from subscribers, including agencies that were refusing to renew their GDS contracts, agreed to reimburse agencies for Northwest’s $3.50 fees, and the two companies faced off in court. Amadeus has agreed to reimburse agents for the fees American imposed Sept. 1, and said it would protect agents from Delta-imposed fees, without specifying what that entails.

MasterCard launched a premium credit card platform that includes a package of travel benefits provided by Virtuoso members. The World Elite MasterCard, which was designed for consumers with household incomes greater than $250,000 a year, will come in various cobranded forms; the first, the Saks Fifth Avenue World Elite MasterCard, was rolled out Sept. 13.

Another version of World Elite will be launched in 2007, targeting small businesses and executives of large corporations.

For its part, Virtuoso will provide the services of member counselors; airline benefits, including companion tickets or upgrades; tailored shore excursions and exclusive onboard events for cruisers; room upgrades and other VIP amenities at hotels; and more.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently announced eight new members to The Starwood Spa Collection, one of the world’s largest assemblages of premier spas, comprised of nearly 40 hotels and resorts in 18 countries.

“The Starwood Spa Collection features some of the world’s most renowned spas,” said Mia Kyricos, director of spa development and marketing, Luxury Spa Brands, “and we are honored to welcome our new members to be part of the prestigious collection.”

Starwood Spa’s newest members include: St. Regis Resort, Bora Bora (French Polynesia), The Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa (Arizona), Convento do Espinheiro Heritage Hotel & Spa (Portugal), The Westin Casuarina Hotel Casino & Spa (Las Vegas), The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa (Fiji), Sheraton Colonia Golf & Spa Resort (Uruguay), Sheraton La Caleta Resort & Spa (Spain) and the Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Tower (Vietnam).

Women in Tourism International Alliance (WITIA) will offer its first fam trip, a five-day tour of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., and Mobile, Ala., from Nov. 28-Dec. 2.

Open to all travel professionals, the tour will focus on the area’s many attractions post Hurricane Katrina, including a jazz brunch at Three Sisters in the French Quarter, and a tour of parishes, museums and historic homes. The tour price of $399 per person, double, includes accommodations, ground transportation, touring per the itinerary and some meals.