Could Your Hotel Room Key Card Work on More Than One Room?

Shortly before midnight at a rural Clarion hotel in West Virginia, a man slips his key card into the door of his room. He enters – and immediately hears a woman scream. Seconds later, a man wearing only his underwear comes running at him from the darkened room. He immediately backpedals into the hallway -- and realizes that he somehow opened the door to the wrong room.

hotel room key card
Are these key card-activated locks having more problems than hotel guests realize? (original image found at Gizmodo – and you should read their story, too)

Just in case you haven’t figured it out, I was Underwear Man. And this recently played out at the Clarion Shepherdstown. You can imagine this was a pretty startling experience for everyone involved. You’d also think the the front desk staff would’ve been maybe just a bit apologetic about it when my wife told them about it the next morning.

"That’s been happening to us recently," someone told her.

Wait – what?

I can’t say I expected them to comp our room or anything. But I would expect them to act as if having rooms that are far-less-than-secure would maybe be cause for action and maybe some sort of reassurance.

This particular Clarion loses a lot of points for not seeming to care very much about the security of its rooms. But this can’t be the only hotel with such problems, even though I’ve literally never had this happen anywhere else.

So exactly how safe are these hotel room key cards? When I searched for information, most of the results were about how the most-common magnetic strip cards eventually stop working and need to be re-magnetized. I also found a few results about ID theft via the key cards (which seem entirely the stuff of misunderstandings turned into urban myths). Maybe I’m just searching with the wrong terms.

That means nobody is talking about one key card working for multiple doors. Granted, for criminals this seems like a very low-percentage endeavor. Most likely, when this happens you’ll just have two guests scaring the crap out of each other. It stands to reason that the industry would rather not talk about it – it doesn’t happen very often and it’s potentially embarrassing. But it still deserves more than a shrug and "shit happens" attitude like the Clarion’s front desk staff.

Have you ever heard of this happening? How would you expect the front desk staff to react? How should upper management handle this?





Safeguard Your House While You Travel

Ever worry about your house when you travel? Or get that nagging feeling that something is not quite right as you head to the airport?

Well, my streak of luck ended. After years of problem-free travel, it all caught up: A faulty seal in a toilet flooded our house while we were gone. And it made me write this story for Yahoo! Voices about steps you can take to protect your house.

The big one? Turn the water valves at your toilets off. Some people have also mentioned doing the same at the wash machine. Really, this experience with a house flood makes me dream about just having a yurt and a composting toilet. But check out the rest of the tips, too. You might find something that bails you out the next time you travel.




TSA’s Security Circus Snags Wrenches

If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. But your wrench can’t dodge the TSA if it’s too big. (Image from

My brother J.D. probably didn’t expect things to turn out this way. It was just a quick visit to Arizona and a meet-up with Sarah and me for gelato. So how in the world does the Transportation Security Administration come into play?

Well, it started with a shrieky sound and a burning rubber smell from my Subaru Forester about an hour before we were supposed to meet. I made it home, popped the hood and saw the soon-to-be-shredded final remnants of my fan belts. They were past due for a change (thanks so much to the guys who changed my oil last week and didn’t mention this as part of their 40-point "inspection").

I mentioned this to my Subaru-driving brother around a mouthful of gelato. Soon after, we had flashlights aimed on the offending belts and developed a plan of attack. A few problems emerged: All the auto shops were closed, we had some inadequate tools and a bolt had fallen into an awkward place.

J.D. picked the parts the next day at Camelback Subaru. And he grabbed some wrenches designed for hard-to-reach places. The repairs went off easily after that. J.D. figured he’d keep the tools since A), he paid for ‘em and B) he’s more likely to get repeat use out of them (I concur). And off to the airport he went to head home to Missouri.

Some Tools Are Too Big to Fly

The TSA agents snared J.D.’s shiny new wrenches in their security gauntlet at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. All but one, apparently, was at least three-eighths of an inch too long to get through security.

These are not sharp objects – what? No, I mean the wrenches!

"Three-eighths of an inch is what makes us safe?" JD mused as he told me the story.

According to the TSA website’s Prohibited Items page:
Wrenches and Pliers (seven inches or less in length) OK OK

JD sought some flexibility from the agents, including having me drop by to collect the tools. They were having none of it – they offered no ideas other than tossing these objects that are too dangerous to fly into a trash bin (is that any place for something too dangerous to fly?). And I can’t help thinking that these are now stored somewhere in a TSA employee’s garage.

The policy and "unsafe" length seem arbitrary. And it confirms a big knock against TSA: that it wrings its hands over objects rather than assessing who’s carrying the objects. They’re looking for stuff, not people with intent to cause mayhem.

TSA Keeps Authority and Sense Separated

This makes me think of Tokyo Narita International Airport: After we checked out baggage, a polite security agent pulled Sarah aside: "Excuse me, please – you have two cans of shaving cream in your backpack. Can you tell me why?" Sarah told her that she thought she’d left one behind earlier in the trip and picked up a second one. The agent thanked her and sent us on our way. She exhibited tact and good sense.

The point isn’t the $20 cost of the tools. The lack of good sense, unwillingness to solve problems and security theatrics, though, are the crux of the matter.

TSA made no one safer today by preventing a bunch of wrenches from flying. And that’s the organization’s mission, isn’t it?



TSA’s Full-Body Scanner Policies are Baffling

I recently left Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for a trip to Denver.

This was my first trip since the full-body scanners started making headlines. I have a lot of objections to these so-called "digital strip searches." You can see my objections at the end of this post.

Now, onto my Sky Harbor experience. I put in my time reading about all this, so I knew a few things. First, I knew that not all travelers go through the full-body scanner. Second, I knew I could opt out and get an enhanced pat-down.

That knowledge didn’t help me at all.

We showed up at the C Gate TSA checkpoint in Terminal 4. I wasn’t sure what the full-body scanners look like, and I expected an explanation and the offer of a pat-down. I got neither. They herded me into a machine and said "turn and put your hands up." I didn’t know if I was in some sort of upgraded magnetometer or a body scanner, and none of the officers told me beforehand.

A female officer then let me out, but then realized the scan didn’t work. "We didn’t do it right," she said. Read that again: They didn’t do it right. All I had to do was stand and wait for a few seconds. And they didn’t do it right.

Rather than sending me through again, the officer sent me to a male officer for a pat-down. The first thing I did was ask if I’d just gone through a magnetometer – this was to confirm I’d been through a body scanner. By this point, I could see the brand name "Rapiscan" on the machine. For the record, that is the company that engaged Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff as a consultant.

The TSA officer said it was a body scanner, not a regular mag. He then described what he was planning to do. The enhanced pat-down was time-consuming, but not particularly invasive. The officer didn’t seem thrilled about doing it, that’s for sure.

I was pretty disturbed that none of the agents offered to let me opt out before sending me into the scanner. I thought that was the procedure. There was no communication at all.

In Denver, the security line had regular magnetometers and body scanners. I didn’t catch a brand name on them, though. They looked different from those at Sky Harbor. The officers waved us through the mags, though it looked like some people went through the body scanners. I couldn’t catch the methods to who went where.

Here are my objections to the full-body scanners:
1. They’re not about security – they’re about money. These devices are expensive. And people like former Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff stand to make bank from their sales. one company spent $4.3 million in lobbying costs this year alone. Now, when a company spends that much lobbying, you know they are raking it in.
2. They’re not effective. There’s only so much these scanners can detect, and it seems their limitations aren’t worth their costs or benefits. But companies like Rapiscan are raking in big bucks from the people who shrug and say "well, if it keeps us safe."
3. The nation’s largest association of pilots is so unconvinced by TSA safety studies of the devices that is has instructed member pilots to opt for enhanced pat-downs (which are also causing lots of angst). And unlike the X-ray devices you’ll see at the dentist’s office, the backscatter and millimeter-wave machines airports are using aren’t being used with any safety precautions. Worse yet, TSA officers do not seem to be very good at using them, as you saw above. I’m also skeptical of the specious "you’re exposed to more radiation during the flight" argument – different bands of radiation at different intensities have different effects. And until the companies who manufacture these devices allow an independent examination of the equipment, I won’t be satisfied.

Be sure to see what happened during a recent encounter I had with TSA employees in Chicago.

Want to know more? Here are some good links: