Dear Yanni...I'm dreading going through TSA. Any tips?By Yanni Poulakos
On this week's column, Yanni discusses TSA etiquette and how to avoid scammers on rental platforms.
My last TSA experience was the absolute worst even after making so much effort to be nice. Now, I’m dreading going back to the airport for my next business trip, what should I do?
- TSA-Timid in Tampa
Ugh, I’m sorry. I know a lot of us are feeling a little more TS-nay than TS-yay these days. Admittedly, airport security isn’t the highlight of travel, but it’s necessary. Here's the gist: Airport security isn't a fun situation — for anyone involved. Give a smile if you're so inclined, complain if necessary, but to be honest the whole process is a necessary evil we all have to get through.
When I think of “give us your tired, your weak, your huddled masses,” I’ve thought of this to be the sentiment of a crowded security line at 5am on a Saturday. We can all deal with the fact that we may be tired, or even in a snarling line of the masses, but our tipping point is often that we may feel weak in our ability to do anything about it.
So, I get it. Lines and people = blah. But really, the friction is most often an issue about the way we feel we may be treated. There are certainly times where the process goes less-than-optimally, perhaps even rising to the event of being treated differently without cause. In those instances, you do have a right to complain. The TSA has a complaints process. It’s a pain to do yet another thing, but as a customer of the process it’s your right to speak up.
Ultimately, I try to come from a place of empathy. Like other essential federal employees, the TSA keeps people on the job always, including during a government shut down. Much as I may dislike the process, I want employees to be happy because it’s what keeps us safe. Smile if you’re inclined, be at least cordial if you’re not. Comply, don’t defy. Then, if something goes awry, raise a concern through the complaint process. If something serious is happening in the moment, address whatever makes you uncomfortable.
What I will add is that there is a belief that this is by design. In other words, make people unhappy in the TSA line to incentivize TSA PreCheck sign ups at $85 a pop. This may be true, in part, but it also persists so long as we don’t speak up as customers. Don’t necessarily dread the TSA line, but if you notice things that aren’t going right for you, don’t feel paralyzed not to say anything. You’ll probably still need to take off your belt though.
My company wants to try out alternative lodging options, like AirBnb, for our business travel. But, I'm worried about picking an option that will turn out to be a listing fraud, or canceled at the last minute. Any tips?
- Fraud-Fearing in Fort Worth
AirBnb's are definitely a more unique way to approach business travel — and they usually help you save some money. But, they sometimes come with risks.The sheer volume of listings that are self-generated everyday on platforms like AirBnB mean that they go largely unchecked and unregulated, and customer support is so overwhelmed by the volume of travelers that it is hard to swiftly conduct quality assurance and remove shifty listings. So offenders are easily rinsing and repeating.
With that said, there are measures for travelers to take before, during and after their time in an AirBnB to prevent fraud. Having completed over 100 stays through AirBnB myself, I can speak to lessons of the (thankfully) few experiences of attempts to be scammed.
- Always keep communication with hosts in-platform. Many hosts will wish to defer to emailing, texting, carrier pigeon, etc. However, in order to be protected, keep all of your communication in a space where if you need support, they’d be able to view everything. Of note, some professionally run properties may often have their own apps or preferences to communicate, but it’s totally ok to say that you’d really like to keep your communication organized in one place. Playing by the rules will save you heartache later.
- Don’t fall for the last minute switch up. Rental platforms like AirBnB give deference to host needs, so much so that if a host decides at the last minute they’d rather cuddle up on their own couch and binge a tv show rather than make money from your stay, they can. This creates an automatic review that says “host cancelled XX days before arrival” so you’ll see if someone has a track record of being flakey. On the scammer side, however, they’ll often come up with excuses why you can’t actually stay in the place you booked at the last minute and want to talk to you off the platform to make arrangements and have no publicly viewable track record. Do not proceed, do not pass go, do not let them collect your $200. Involve customer support immediately and if the host isn’t showing you another reviewed listing that they have on the platform which they are proposing that is of like or better quality, do not accept it.
- Looks too good to be true? It might just be that. This is where “check yourself, before you wreck yourself” is an appropriate mantra to keep in mind. Scammers are great at using artist renderings, photos of a generic all-white apartment in Miami with windows photoshopped Caribbean blue, or having an incredibly low rate relative to other rentals nearby to lure you in. If it doesn’t pass the smell test, then it may not be for you. This is most often true of new listings with no reviews.
- Stick to major vacation rental providers. This isn’t about picking favorites, it’s about vulnerabilities. Large platforms like VRBO and AirBnB have a robust platform, lots of investment and do vacation rentals all day everyday. Other players in the travel space have added vacation rentals, but are not as resourced, which means that scammers are more likely to play to those vulnerabilities.
- Don’t pay in a shady way. Using an app? Pay that way. Do not provide any cash or additional payments outside of the platform unless that’s disclosed. For example, some international destinations often have guests pay for their utilities, but this must be disclosed in advance, not a surprise at arrival.