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27 December 2013

How to (not) fly with marijuana

In this second article about the upcoming changes in marijuana laws in the states of Washington and Colorado, we answer basic questions about how to fly with marijuana. Starting in 2014, any adult age 21 and over will be able to legally buy and possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, but this freedom is limited.

While these two states have changed their laws, the federal laws on the possession and use of marijuana have not changed. However, the federal government is allowing individual states the freedom to allow certain kinds of marijuana possession and use within the borders of those states.

Because federal law prohibits the transportation of marijuana (cannabis) by air, the answer to most of these questions is some variation of no, but for some passengers, saying no is not enough. Below are some detailed explanations behind each question, starting with yes answers.

The following questions are related to airports located in the states of Washington and Colorado, where both recreational and medicinal marijuana will be legal starting in 2014.

Can I bring marijuana to the airport? - That depends on what part of the airport. The secure parts of the airport, including the terminal areas beyond the TSA checkpoints, are under federal control, and federal law prohibits the possession of marijuana in these parts of the airport.

Can I bring marijuana on the plane? - No. You are not allowed to bring marijuana on the plane. In fact, you are not even allowed to bring marijuana past the TSA security screening checkpoints.

Can I put marijuana in a checked bag? - No. You are not allowed to bring marijuana on the plane either in checked or carry on luggage.

Can I mail or ship my marijuana before I get on the plane? - No. Federal law prohibits sending marijuana through the mail or through shipping services like FedEx and UPS.

Can I fly after consuming marijuana? - Yes, but it may not be a good idea. While federal law doesn't prohibit passengers from flying under the influence of drugs, if you are intoxicated, you may be prevented from boarding your aircraft. Also, if you somehow get on the aircraft and are intoxicated, you may not be able to react appropriately in emergency situations, and your behavior may be affected in a way that makes you a hazard to crew members and other passengers.

Can I use marijuana at the airport? - It depends on the situation. Outside of the secure areas of the terminal, state laws determine if you can consume marijuana. In both Colorado and Washington, public consumption of marijuana is illegal, so consumption out of public view would be legal.

Can I smoke marijuana in a designated airport smoking area? - No. These smoking areas are public areas for smoking of tobacco products, not marijuana, so the state laws of both Colorado and Washington would not allow you to smoke marijuana in these areas.

Can I consume marijuana at the airport if I am not smoking it? - Yes, so long as you are consuming your marijuana out of public view.

What is considered out of the public view at the airport? - That is up to the interpretation of law enforcement in Colorado and Washington. Also, airports may have additional restrictions on the use of marijuana on airport property.

Can I fly with medical marijuana if I have a prescription? - No. Federal law does not allow any kind of marijuana, whether it is medical or recreational marijuana, on airliners or in the secure parts of the airport terminal (beyond the TSA screening stations), and it does not matter if you have a prescription for medical marijuana.

Am I allowed to fly into an airport in Colorado or Washington with marijuana? - No. If you somehow have managed to bring marijuana with you on your inbound flight, you have broken the law.

What if I am on an incoming international flight from a country where marijuana is legal? - The answer is still no. If you are entering the country, you will have to go clear US customs, and federal law prohibits the importation of marijuana, or any drug paraphernalia.

Follow upcoming developments will publish a series of articles about the implementation of the changes in marijuana laws and regulations in Colorado and Washington and how they may affect air travelers. To receive those updates, please subscribe to the mailing list.

Related resources
Airline travel and marijuana

20 December 2013

Holiday air travel advice 2013

Once again, tens of millions of people, including many infrequent and first time flyers, are heading home for the holidays, and with some prior planning and a little bit of luck, most passengers should not have any serious travel issues. has a variety of resources, including online resources and downloadable ebooks that will help you work through many of the most common issues: web site resources

Downloadable ebooks

Traveling with gifts
If you carry gifts, either in checked or carry-on baggage, remember that the TSA has to be able to inspect any package and may have to unwrap your gift to do so. You can partially unwrap them for easier access, ship wrapped gifts ahead of time, or wait until you arrive at your destination to wrap them.

Flying with holiday food
You should be aware that some food items are banned from carry on baggage because they contain liquids or gels. While you can carry cakes, pastries, and pies with you in your carry on bag, but the following should either be in checked baggage or left at home:

  • Cranberry sauce
  • Creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.)
  • Gravy
  • Jams, jellies, and syrup
  • Oils and vinegars
  • Salad dressing
  • Salsa
  • Sauces
  • Soups
  • Wine, liquor and beer
  • Gift baskets with one or more of the above items

New and surprising for 2013
There are several new trends and rules to look out for this year, some of them are pleasant surprises, and some of them no so pleasant:

  • Mobile device rule changes: In October, the FAA lifted many of the restrictions on the use of personal electronic devices in flight, and many airlines now allow you to use mobile devices and tablets during all phases of the flight. However, phone calls are still not allowed, and most airlines don't provide inflight Internet access.
  • Increasing restrictions on unaccompanied children: More airlines are increasing the costs, and increasing the fees, for travel by unaccompanied children. Typically, airlines allow children 12 and over to travel alone, but require that children between five and 11 who travel alone do so under their unaccompanied child program. However, many airlines restrict unaccompanied children to nonstop flights (including United as of earlier this month), and may charge up to $300 extra for a round trip flight.
  • Some passengers can keep their shoes on:Since the last holiday travel season, TSA has relaxed their rules on removing shoes at checkpoints. Children 12 and younger, adults 75 and older, and members of the military no longer have to routinely remove their shoes during TSA screening.

15 December 2013

Airline travel and marijuana

Starting next month, two US states, Washington and Colorado, will allow any adult aged 21 or over to purchase small amounts of marijuana (cannabis), without any prescription, license, or other special permission.

While marijuana has been available for sale for medicinal purposes for several years in numerous states, including Washington and Colorado, the changes that will happen in 2014 are significant because the general public, including air travelers from other states and countries, will be able to legally buy and consume marijuana.

Although many of the details of how marijuana laws and regulations will be enforced within Colorado and Washington are still being worked out, the laws and regulations related to airline travel and marijuana are very clear. Any airline passenger who intends to travel to the states of Washington or Colorado for the purpose of legally consuming marijuana should be aware of a few basic realities about air travel and marijuana.

Key things passengers should know
There are a few key things that any airline passenger should understand about the changes in the laws that may impact their decisions to travel to or from the states of Washington or Colorado:

  • Federal law has not changed: Marijuana has been, and continues to be illegal at the federal (national) level. No federal laws have changed, but the federal government has allowed the governments of individual states to allow for the production, distribution, and consumption of marijuana related products within that state's borders. While about 20 states allow the use of medical marijuana, only two, Washington and Colorado, have also allowed for the sale and use of non-medical marijuana.
  • Possession is limited at airports: The federal government has banned marijuana from any federal property, or any areas under federal control. That would include the secure areas of the airport (the areas inside the TSA screening areas), and on any airliners.
  • You can't fly with marijuana: The federal government bans marijuana, even medical marijuana, on aircraft, whether in a carry-on item, in checked bags, or in any package being shipped by air.
  • Medial marijuana is treated the same: The federal government makes no distinction between medical marijuana and other kinds of marijuana.

The TSA and marijuana

The TSA is not a law enforcement agency, and the TSA has stated that its security officers do not specifically search for illegal drugs. If a marijuana-related item is discovered, even in states where marijuana is legal, TSA's policy is to refer the matter to law enforcement to make a determination on how to proceed.

Since law enforcement at an airport typically handled by a local or state level law enforcement agency, how a passenger will be treated will depend on the location and the circumstances. At the very least, the passenger's marijuana will likely be confiscated.

Entering the US with marijuana
The situation is different for someone traveling to Colorado or Washington from outside of the US. All passengers entering the US must pass through US customs, and the federal government will not allow marijuana to enter the country. Also banned are any articles that are intended to be used with marijuana. In addition, non-US citizens who attempt to enter the US with marijuana or marijuana-related items may be prevented from entering the US.

US customs officials may also bar from the country non-US citizens who are attempting to enter the US for the purposes of engaging in illegal activities. Since the consumption of marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, if you are not a US citizen and you are entering the US for the purpose of consuming marijuana in Washington or Colorado, it is possible that you could be prevented from entering the country, even though your activity is considered legal within those states.

Follow upcoming developments
This article is the first of many that will discuss these upcoming changes in Washington and Colorado, and how those changes may affect airline passengers who are traveling to or from those states for the purpose of consuming marijuana. In the next few weeks, will be publishing a number of updates about the changes in marijuana laws and regulations and how they may affect air travelers. To receive those updates, please subscribe to the mailing list.

Photo credit: JonRichfield

13 December 2013

Review of NTSB Asiana flight 214 investigative hearing

On 11 December 2013, the NTSB conducted a day-long investigative hearing into the 6 July 2013 crash of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco, featuring public testimony from representatives of Boeing, Asiana Airlines, and other organizations directly involved in the accident and the subsequent investigation. While the NTSB had previously released to the public substantial amounts of information about the accident, there was quite a bit more new material presented at the hearing.

For a summary of the hearing, listen to the Al Jazeera America interview featuring their transportation contributor Dr. Todd Curtis.

The amount of information presented at the hearing was noteworthy, as was the way that it was released. Like it has since the day of the accident, the NTSB has been very innovative in the way that it has used the Internet to get information very quickly to the public. This article describes some of the information presented in the hearing, and also points out some of the areas where the information released could be incomplete or misleading.

The purpose of the investigative hearing
The NTSB holds public hearings during major accident investigations for many reasons, among the most important is making the public aware of the progress of the investigation, and to focus attention on the key areas of the investigation. While the key parties involved in the investigation, most notably Boeing and Asiana airlines, provided testimony and answered detailed questions from NTSB Board members, they have all been closely involved with the investigation from the beginning, and have likely already provided the same information to the investigators.

The public testimony is more of an opportunity for the media and the general public, including accident victims and their families, to learn additional details of the investigation and to get an idea of where the investigation is heading.

What the NTSB discussed
The NTSB investigative hearing focused on five areas:

  1. Boeing 777 flight deck design concepts and characteristics
  2. Asiana pilot training on Boeing 777 automated systems and visual approach procedures
  3. Effects and influence of automation on human performance in the accident sequence
  4. Emergency response
  5. Airplane cabin crashworthiness and occupant protection.

The investigation is far from complete
The investigative hearing is only part of the accident investigation process, focusing on the factual aspects of what happened in the accident and the initial emergency response to the crash, as well as factors that may have played a role in circumstances that led up to the accident or that affected the emergency response.

Hearing testimony provided insights into the "what happened" kind of questions being asked by the NTSB, such as what was the sequence of events that occurred immediately before and after the accident, as well as insights into "why it happened" questions such as the kind of training provided to the flight crew on the accident aircraft. The latter parts of the investigation focuses on answering "why it happened."

Other "why it happened" type of questions may address issues or explain circumstances that happened days, months, or even years before the accident, and that may have led to the situations that allowed the accident to occur and that may have made deaths and injuries either more or less likely once the accident occurred. The hearing didn't fully answer all of the "what happened" and "why it happened" questions. Complete answers to these questions, and well as recommendations for changes and improvements, will likely not happen until the final report is published.

These recommendations, which are answers to "what should be done" questions, typically, but not always, get answered at the time the final report is published because much of the analysis of the accident happens after the NTSB and their investigative partners have had an opportunity to sort through information from a variety of sources. NTSB final reports have a similar organization, and typically have three sections; Findings, Probable Cause, and Recommendations, that are associated with the three kinds of questions mentioned earlier. The "Findings" section would answer the "what happened" questions, the "Probable Cause" section would answer the "why it happened" questions, and the "Recommendations" section would address the "what should be done" questions.

Key implied "what happened" questions
While the investigation is not complete, and other factual information may come to light later, the testimony provided in the hearing implied that the following scenario led to the crash:

  • Although the glideslope portion of the landing runway's instrument landing system was not operational, and the crew was vectored for a visual approach to the landing runway, the Asiana crew decided to used both the autothrottle and autopilot during their landing.
  • The autothrottle was being used to control airspeed, and the autopilot was being used to control the flight path.
  • During the latter part of the landing attempt, the crew disconnected the autopilot and manually adjusted the throttles, and this put the autothrottle in a mode where it was no longer controlling airspeed.
  • The crew continued the landing attempt, and the airspeed was decreasing, but did not take actions to increase the airspeed soon enough to avoid crashing short of the runway.

Key unanswered "why it happened" questions
Critical "why it happened" questions that were hinted at in the hearing, but not yet answered, include the following:

  • Why didn't the crew take corrective action sooner in the landing sequence?
  • Why did the crew use the autopilot and other cockpit automation in ways not recommended by Boeing?
  • Why did the Boeing training organization make certain assumptions about how much airline pilots know about how to use cockpit automation?

How this investigation was different
The Asiana crash was a high profile event, not only in the US, but also in South Korea, where Asiana is based, and China, which had a significant number of its citizens on the flight. The NTSB went to great lengths to accommodate the media interest in this investigation; as well as the public interest in the US, South Korea, and China; by doing the following:

  • Providing a streaming online video stream of the entire hearing,
  • Providing a real-time translation of the hearing in Mandarin Chinese and Korean,
  • Providing a simultaneous transcript in English of the proceedings,
  • Using social media, primarily Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, to provide related photos,videos, and links to additional material.

While the NTSB has historically provided information freely to the public, until the advent of the Internet, it was very difficult for individuals to get access to the final reports or the supporting data behind their investigations. In recent years, and especially during the Asiana investigation, the NTSB has aggressively used social media like Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube to provide more information than ever before, with even fewer delays. While this level of openness has caused some friction in the past between NTSB and other aviation organizations, the amount and types of information provided by the NTSB during this hearing was consistent with their recent communications policies.

Issues with the NTSB's hearing information
While providing a live webcast, a real-time transcript, and simultaneous translations into other languages were very positive actions with respect to providing information, it is important to recognize that there are potential issues with this information that may limit its usefulness or lead to misinterpretations by the media or the public:

  • The transcript of the Asiana hearing was not completely accurate, so if someone requires an accurate transcription, that portion of that transcript should be compared to the appropriate portion of the video.
  • The webcast video of the hearing will be archived, but it is not clear if the original, somewhat flawed, transcript will also be archived, if there will be a revised transcript archived, or if the NTSB will not archive any transcript.
  • The participants in the hearing were provided with simultaneous translations of all the statements made during the hearing, and it is not clear if those translations were completely accurate. Some of the technical information provided in the hearing was both complex and subtle, and may not be completely understood even if the speaker and listener shared the same language. Some of the spoken testimony has accompanying presentation slides that would help understanding, and may be necessary to view those to make sense of the spoken testimony or the information in the transcript.

Dr. Todd Curtis interviewed by Al Jazeera America
Dr. Todd Curtis, transportation contributor for Al Jazeera America, was interviewed by John Seigenthaler about some of the issues discussed during the NTSB hearing.
Listen to the interview

Key NTSB Asiana investigation resources
Asiana flight 214 investigation main page
Asiana flight 214 accident docket
Asiana flight 214 investigative hearing transcript (archived by

Key NTSB social media resources
NTSB webcast archives
NTSB YouTube channel
NTSB Flickr photos
NTSB Twitter stream
NTSB RSS feeds
NTSB email subscriptions

Related articles

Find out how to help Todd Curtis run the Boston Marathon at

11 December 2013

NTSB has live webcast of Asiana 214 investigative hearing today

The NTSB's hearing on Asiana flight 214 began this morning and will end this evening. It is notable for its use of technology to get information quickly to the public. There is no only a live webcast, but also also a live written transcript in English combined with options for translations in Korean and Mandarin Chinese.

This hearing was originally scheduled to take place over two days, but the first day was cancelled due to weather in the Washington, DC area. The agenda was revised so that it could be completed today, and the hearing will run until about 8:00 p.m. This hearing will also be archived for several months, making it very easy for the media and especially the general public to come to their own conclusions about the information provided by witnesses.

Finding live comments on Twitter
If you are searching for recent comments on Twitter, helpful hashtags include #NTSB, #Asiana, and #777.

Asiana flight 214 NTSB investigative hearing information

07 December 2013

Measure turbulence while you fly

If you fly regularly, you will routinely experience turbulence. Although it is routine, it can be worrisome to some air travelers who are already anxious flyers. Most of the time the amount of turbulence is very small, and although the flight crew may reassure passengers either before or after encountering turbulence, they don't provide passengers with any kind of objective measures for turbulence, and passengers had no easy way of finding out on their own.

That has all changed with the release of the new SOAR Fear of Flying smartphone app. Available in versions for iPhone, iPad, and for Android devices, the app includes a G-force meter that you can use to chart the amount of turbulence that you are personally experiencing. An example of this screen is below:

Get the app today!
The app is free, and can be downloaded by clicking the image below or by clicking here:

05 December 2013

NTSB train crash investigation has lessons for future plane crash investigations

Normally, this site focuses on airline related safety and security events, but the NTSB investigation into the 1 December 2013 fatal derailment of a commuter train in New York is an exception because some of the recent developments in the investigation are quite relevant to how the NTSB would investigate future airline accidents.

The NTSB is best known for its investigations of airline accidents, but it also investigates accidents involving other modes of transportation, including rail accidents. NTSB Board Member Earl Weener, who is a former Boeing executive, is heading the investigation of the fatal 1 December 2013 crash of a Metro-North commuter train in New York, and part of that process includes involving relevant parties that provide technical expertise in support of the NTSB's investigation. During the early part of the investigation, the NTSB serves as the primary conduit of information to the media and the public on the progress of the investigation, and sticks primarily to factual information about the accident. Determination of probable causes, and the role of organizations and individuals in the accident typically happens much later in the investigation.

One of the parties invited to participate in this investigation was the Association of Commuter Rail Employees (ACRE), which represents Metro-North several categories of Metro-North employees. However, the NTSB abruptly removed ACRE from the investigation onm3 December 2013 after a representative of the union gave a series of briefings to the media where that representative discussed and interpreted information related to the ongoing investigation.

This is a very rare move for the NTSB, and one that underscores the importance that the NTSB places in adhering to its investigation process. If this had been an airliner accident investigation, the NTSB would have likely taken the same action. While news media organizations and other groups not directly involved in the investigation are free to speculate about the causes of an accident, parties that are part of the NTSB investigation don't have that option. There are many reasons for this, and perhaps the most obvious one is that publicly speculating about the causes of an accident is inappropriate before all of the relevant factual information about the accident has been analyzed.

Below is Earl Weener's NTSB briefing from 3 December 2013.

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