Four giant airline computer systems in the United States handle nearly all the airline reservations in the country. (They're known as CRSs, for computer reservations systems, or more often now GDS for global distribution systems.) Although each airline has a ``home'' CRS, the systems are all interlinked so that you can, with few exceptions, buy tickets for any airline from any CRS. The dominant systems in the U.S. are Sabre (home to American and US Airways), Galileo (home to United), Worldspan (home to Delta, Northwest), and Amadeus (many European lines.) The company that owned Galileo and Orbitz recently bought Worldspan, so the two GDS will presumably be merged. Many of the low-price start-up airlines don't participate in any of these systems but have their own Web sites where you can check flights and buy tickets. Southwest, the largest and oldest of the low-price airlines, doesn't participate, either. Southwest's web site gets car and hotel info from Galileo, but the info seems not to flow the other way. Orbitz one of the big three online travel agencies, runs its own system which is "direct connect" linked directly to many of the airlines.
Other changes include: some airports have stopped curb-side baggage check, anything vaguely resembling a knife or lighter may or may not be confiscated (although lighters suddenly stopped being dangerous a year ago), you're sometimes only allowed one carry-on plus a purse, briefcase, diaper bag or the like, non-passengers aren't allowed past security, all passengers must have a document that looks like a boarding pass at most airports to get past security, you may have to put your toothpaste and shampoo in a baggie that may have to be a one quart size, some parking areas close to terminals are closed. But check-in clerks no longer ask you whether you packed your own suitcase.
Passengers are subject to much more extensive screening than in the past, including screening of checked baggage at check-in time, and, according to news reports pat downs that approach groping. Airlines recommend arriving at least an hour earlier than before. In my experience the extra delay is rarely more than 15 minutes, even with the extra baggage screening, although I usually fly out of smaller airports, not big hubs where you can get the killer two hour lines. The TSA has handed back screening at a surprising number of airports to private contractors, all of whom wear outfits intended to look like TSA uniforms. There is remarkable inconsistency in procedures from one airport to another, particularly with respect to your shoes, is worse than ever. Don't put your shoes in a bin, do put your shoes in a bin, and they all insist very loudly that whatever their rule is has always been the rule everywhere. A variety of extra cost "trusted traveller" plans may allow people to get through the screening faster, or may just involve waiting in a different line. The TSA makes no promises. If you don't want to go through the X-ray machines, whose safety is nowhere near as clear as the TSA would like you to believe, you can get a light body massage instead. They have a web site with estimated wait times based on averages in previous months, not real time numbers.
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Authorities emphasize the importance of taking precautions to ensure travel safety. When traveling abroad, the odds favor a safe and incident-free trip, however, travelers can be subject to difficulties, crime and violence. Some safety considerations include being aware of one's surroundings, avoiding being the target of a crime, leaving copies of one's passport and itinerary information with trusted people, obtaining medical insurance valid in the country being visited and registering with one's national embassy when arriving in a foreign country. Many countries do not recognize drivers' licenses from other countries; however most countries accept international driving permits. Automobile insurance policies issued in one's own country are often invalid in foreign countries, and it is often a requirement to obtain temporary auto insurance valid in the country being visited. It is also advisable to become oriented with the driving-rules and -regulations of destination countries. Wearing a seat belt is highly advisable for safety reasons; many countries have penalties for violating seatbelt laws.
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