Azerbaijan’s secret to long life? Mountain air in the village of Lerik

(CNN) — There are a number of destinations around the world famed for the longevity of their residents.
In Japan, Okinawa’s sprightly centenarians have earned it the nickname “Land of the Immortals.” Campodimele, Italy’s “Village of Eternity,” is testament to the Mediterranean diet. In the sunny Californian town of Loma Linda, a community of Seventh-Day Adventists reaping rewards of clean living.
There’s one long-lived corner of the globe you won’t have heard talked about as much, and it’s home to the world’s only Museum of Longevity. That’s Lerik in southern Azerbaijan.

The South Caucasus country is home to several regions known for producing residents who live to triple-figure ages, including Lankaran and Nagorno-Karabakh. But another, Lerik, is reputed to have the highest concentration of centenarians.

In this emerald land high above the clouds in the Talysh Mountains, reached by loop after loop of a serpentine road, people seem to have discovered a secret to a long and healthy life.

The Museum of Longevity

The two-room Museum of Longevity, built in 1991 and renovated in 2010, holds more than 2,000 exhibits documenting the lives and memories of the region’s oldest inhabitants.

It charts individual lifespans with the household items that they’ve outlived, such as three generations of clothing irons. There are chests filled with headscarves and shirts, silver pitchers and bowls, beautifully knitted socks, and hand-dyed rugs that are still brightly colored despite their age.

And then there are the letters, written in both Azerbaijani and Russian — personal artifacts so old that the ink is starting is fade.

Perhaps the most captivating features are the portraits of centenarians that cover the museum’s walls. These images, dating from the 1930s, were donated by French photographer Frederic Lachop.

The museum, and official Azerbaijan statistics, define “centenarian” more loosely than you’d expect: Here, it means anyone over 90 years old.

However, back in 1991, there were more than 200 people in Lerik registered as being more than 100 years old, out of a population of 63,000.

Numbers have been less impressive since then, which locals blame variously on radiation from communication towers and environmental decline, but could just as easily be down to more rigorous record-keeping.

Today, there are 11 people more than 100 years old, out of a local population of 83,800.

The tale of the 168-year-old man

For story about Azerbaijan's Museum of Longevity

Is this the world’s oldest man ever? Perhaps not.

Kamilla Rzayeva

Lerik’s current oldest citizen is Raji Ibrahimova, at 105 years. That’s a fine vintage, but it pales in comparison to the age reputedly reached by area’s most celebrated centenarian, Shirali Muslumov, a shepherd who supposedly lived to be 168.

The yellow pages of his passport claim that he was born in 1805 and his gravestone states that he died in 1973. If true, it would make the the oldest person to have ever lived.

Unfortunately, back in the early 19th century, birth registrations rarely took place in such remote villages as his birthplace of Barzavu, so there is no certifable record of when he was born.

Countless letters sent from all over the world on his various birthdays leave no doubt that he was indeed of a very respectable age, but it’s perhaps best to factor in a minimum 20-year margin of error.

Among those corresponding with Muslumov were Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh, who sent a postcard greeting him with the endearment, “Dear Grandpa.”

This longevity gene seems to run in the family. His 95-year-old daughter, Halima Qambarova, tells CNN Travel that — while she might not live to 168, like her father — she at least hopes to live to the age of 150, like her grandfather, or 130, like her aunt.

‘Stillness of the mind’

When the weather turns cold, most centenarians relocate to the kinder coastal climes of Lankaran, but Qambarova was still in the Lerik village of Barzavu when CNN Travel dropped by her father’s modest two-story home, surrounded by massive apple and pear trees (probably contemporaries of her famous father).

Sitting by the window, wrapped in a shawl, she speaks with a slight accent, switching often to her native language of Talysh, a dialect spoken by just 200,000 people and classified as “vulnerable” by UNESCO.

She shows off her passport, which doesn’t list a month or date of birth, only the year: 1924. She may be 95, but she is fully present, interacting with her great-grandchildren, and demonstrating her lively sense of humor. When asked her age, she cheerfully replies, “15.”

“Stillness of the mind is part of their secret,” the museum guide says. “They stay away from stress, thinking about life quite philosophically, living one day at a time, without much planning or worry for the future.”

Good nutrition and natural remedies

For story about Azerbaijan's Museum of Longevity

Halima Qanbarova is a young thing of 95. Her grandfather is said to have lived to 150, her father to 168, and her aunt to 130.

Kamilla Rzayeva

Qambarova’s day starts at dawn; she doesn’t let herself sleep in. “I get up as soon as my eyes open,” she says.

She spends the whole day working in the garden or around the house. Her room is small, with a thick soft carpet and pillows on the floor. Many people here prefer sleeping on the ground, with just a thin blanket instead of a mattress, as it’s believed to be the healthiest way to rest the back.

Contrary to popular belief, the centenarians of Lerik do eat meat, but they inherited a preference for fresh dairy products such as shor (cottage cheese), butter, milk and the yoghurt drink ayran from earlier centenarians, for whom the abstinence from meat was more due to economic circumstance.

Qambarova’s daughter-in-law brings in a big plate with pears and apples from their garden and some aromatic tea.

It’s herbal, floral and refreshing. Back at the museum, the guide shows a table with the various herbs native to Lerik.

“The secret of long life is good nutrition, the minerals in the spring water and the herbs that we add to tea to prevent illnesses, so people don’t have to take any medicine, only using the natural remedies,” says the guide. Indeed, Qambarova insists she’s never taken any medication.

Generations living side by side

Beyond her windows, it may seem that the village is quiet and still. But the physical work that villagers put in every day is immense. From sunrise until sunset they work in gardens and fields as well as around the house. They sew and knit and take care of big families.

Such was the lifestyle of Mammadkhan Abbasov, a 103-year-old from Jangamiran village. Sitting on the carpet, across from the window, the centenarian has almost completely lost his sight and can barely hear his son telling him that guests have arrived, but when he finally catches it, he starts singing, offering prayers and good wishes.

At Abbasov’s side is his great grandson — a century gap between them.

Just like Qambarova, Abbasov has been a busy villager his whole life, working in the fields until about seven years ago, when his vision deteriorated.

‘Whatever God gives’

For story about Azerbaijan's Museum of Longevity

Lerik is testament to the benefits of fresh mountain air.

Kamilla Rzayeva

“He has always been a good man and lived his life properly,” his son says.

In terms of food, he eats “whatever God gives” with just one restriction — he never drinks alcohol.

Abbasov attributes his long life to daily physical activity, not to the point of exhaustion, but enough to challenge the body.

Along with the good nutrition from the farm products, he also used to drink liters of ice-cold spring water, which is rich with minerals said to contribute to longevity.

The headache-inducing altitudes of mountains may also be a factor.

The ages of some of these celebrated centenarians may still be disputed, but here in Lerik their legacy lives on through the people that still abide by the simple secret of Lerik’s longevity: physical activity, good nutrition, lots of water and an attitude to life that says: We only live once, but if we do it right, once is enough.

Museum of Longevity, 22 A.Asadullayev street, Lerik, Azerbaijan; (025) 274-47-11

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Fine dining in Budapest: How the city has become a culinary force

(CNN) — While Budapest may be primarily known for its architecture, geothermal springs and communist heritage, the city’s gastronomy scene has been gaining considerable travel attention in recent years.

New and exciting fine dining spots are constantly opening up in the Hungarian capital, many headed up by prolific chefs keen to inject imagination and prestige into the Budapest dining experience.

Two restaurants in the Hungarian capital were awarded new Michelin stars in the past 12 months alone, bringing the total of Michelin-awarded establishments in Budapest to six.

Hungary only received its first Michelin star nine years ago, so this is a pretty remarkable turnaround.

There’s little doubt a culinary revolution is underway in the “Pearl of the Danube,” but what’s brought about this burgeoning movement?

Record numbers of tourists and a booming economy have definitely played a part.

With Hungary’s difficult past well documented, it’s fair to say that fine dining hasn’t necessarily been a high priority for locals haunted by Communist austerity.

“Hungary was always a pretty poor country,” explains Hungarian food critic Andras Jokuti. “So the main goal of Hungarian cuisine was to stay alive. It was very important to have lots of proteins and carbs — it was based around potato and meat.”

Culinary movement

Miguel Vieira at Budapest restaurant Costes tells CNN Travel what makes great, creative cuisine.

Shifting this perception has been a lengthy process, which continues today. However, the tide is definitely turning.

Portuguese chef Miguel Rocha Vieira believes this is partly due to good quality produce becoming more readily available in the country during the past decade.

“We’d have to buy butter from abroad [before] because there was no good quality butter here,” he tells CNN.

“Everything is completely different now.”

Vieira heads up Costes, based in Raday Street, and was at the restaurant’s helm when it became the first in the country to earn a Michelin star back in 2010.

He produces modern takes on classic Hungarian dishes, serving up four to seven-course set menus with various wine pairings.

Jokuti feels that Vieira injected life into the dining scene by merging both Hungarian and Portuguese influences into his dishes early on.

“When Miguel arrived in Budapest, it was like the very beginning of the fine dining story in Hungary,” he says.

Vieira admits he knew little about Hungarian cuisine when he came to the country all those years ago and was often “hammered by critics.”

“My cooking has changed a lot,” he adds. “Now I can tell you proudly that my stamp is in the food.”

“One of the biggest compliments we can have here is if somebody says, ‘I felt this dinner had personality.”

While Vieira tries to incorporate Hungarian traditions in his dishes, this isn’t the “ultimate goal” and he certainly doesn’t have Michelin stars in mind while in the kitchen.

“I always say to the boys, ‘We should cook for ourselves. We should do what we believe.’ It’s not about cooking for awards,” he adds. “It’s not looking for stars or for recognition.

“That’s the cherry on top of the cake. But that’s not why we work 14, 15 or 16 hours a day.”

Modern interpretations

Chef Tamas Szell from Budapest restaurant Stand on his modern interpretations of traditional Hungarian dishes.

Hungarian chef Tamas Szell has been credited with putting Hungarian food on the map back in 2016, when his modern interpretations of the country’s traditional dishes won him the gold medal at the prestigious ‘Bocuse D’or Europe’ competition.

Szell and co-chef Szabina Szulló head up the kitchen at Stand, which was awarded its first Michelin star this March, has a similar approach to cooking to Vieira.

“Food is the best communication between a chef and the guests,” Szell tells CNN.

“Hopefully our dishes contain the sweet memories from childhood. When I cook a dish, it should be acceptable to both our grandmothers and a Michelin inspector. This is the most difficult [part] I think.”

Stand opened in Budapest in 2018 following the success of market hall bistro Stand25, which Szell and Szulló also ran together.

“My inspirations definitely come from my childhood,” he adds. “My mother had a saying, ‘we are poor but we are living well’.”

Szell says his fisherman’s soup, which contains carp, paprika, water and tiny ravioli type pasta known as deraya in Hungary, is the second most popular soup after goulash.

“When I was a child, my mother often made it this way,” he explains.

Szell’s dishes appear to be having the desired impact. Stand, based on Székely Mihály street, has been a big hit since it launched.

In fact, Jokuti describes it as the “the perfect Hungarian restaurant,” praising the inventive way Szell manages to tone down the richness of traditional Hungarian cuisine.

“This, I think, is his biggest achievement. To somehow recreate the traditions into something modern,” says Jokuti.

Szell sources his dairy products from a tiny farm just outside Budapest, which supplies to a handful of fine dining restaurants in the city.

Within 48 hours of the milk leaving the cow’s udder, it’s being served up back at Stand in the form of cottage cheese,

“I think the ingredients are the most important thing,” adds Szell. “The good ingredients always try to find the chef and the chef always tries to find the best ingredients.”

Find out why Budapest restaurant Babel is a unique feature of the city’s culinary scene.

Situated in Budapest’s downtown, Babel is one of the most recent restaurants in the city to be awarded a Michelin star.

It’s relatively small, with around a dozen tables, exposed brick walls and dim lighting, offering an intimate dining experience.

Inspired by Hungarian traditions and the Romanian region of Transylvania, chef Istvan Veres presents five to 10 course tasting menus containing simple ingredients such as nettle or lichen.

Veres says cooking is an “obsession” rather than a passion for him, describing how he’ll often dream about a dish and then attempt to bring it to life the very next day.

“In fine dining, you have to do something special, something unique,” he says.”You put your soul on the plate.”

“I’m never scared about new things.”

According to Jokuti, it’s this fearlessness that makes Veres such a trailblazing chef.

“Istvan’s taste is not that easy to follow,” says Jokuti. “I love to go to Babel because I’m always surprised.”

Basic ingredients

Budapest restaurant Salt

Salt is tipped to become the next Budapest restaurant to receive a Michelin star.

Courtesy Salt Budapest

Hoping to repeat the success of Stand, Babel and Costes, is new dining establishment Salt, which has only been open since October.

It’s run by chef Szilard Toth and manager Mate Boldizsar, who often serve up the dishes to diners themselves.

Toth regularly goes foraging for produce in the Hungarian countryside, coming back with all types of edible delights.

“We find so many basic ingredients that an average chef does not really see very often,” Toth tells CNN.

“This means we can introduce a world of flavors for our food — amazing flavor pairings that can’t be found anywhere else.”

The chef’s table is positioned in the middle of the restaurant, so diners can wander over to ask questions about the dishes, or just watch Toth and his team in action.

Dishes are presented simply — some don’t even require cutlery — and customers can opt for a Hungarian wine pairing menu to complement their meal.

The team at Salt pride themselves on transforming basic produce into fine dining and the restaurant is filled with jars containing fermented or pickled items found in the forest.

“We have a course called greasy bread,” says Boldizsar. ” In its original form, it’s a very, very simple dish.

“Just a piece of bread with some fat. We put some bacon on it, some caviar and some lambskin.”

Only time will tell whether Salt will gain a coveted Michelin star, but the restaurant does seem to be winning over may diners in the short time it’s been around for.

“I think he [Toth] shows that it’s possible to create a very hedonistic, but still very modern meal from sometimes humble, but very Hungarian ingredients,” says Jokuti.

A restaurant like Salt would have seemed inconceivable in the Hungarian capital a few years ago.

Its emergence is a clear indication of the adventurous direction the city’s culinary scene is currently moving in.

“It’s really fascinating to witness these times in Hungarian cuisine,” says Jokuti.

“I’m traveling a lot, visiting the world’s best restaurants. It’s amazing to see that I can come home and eat at these fine restaurants.

“It’s not like, ‘Okay, it’s not so good, but it’s at least it’s Hungarian.’

“It can be a pleasure, it can be an excitement. We have achieved a very fantastic level.”

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Fairmont Baku in Baku’s Flame Towers: One of the world’s tallest hotels

Editor’s Note — CNN Travel’s series often carry sponsorship originating from the countries and regions we profile. However, CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reports. Read the policy.
(CNN) — From traditional souks, mosques and UNESCO World Heritage sites, to futuristic skyscrapers, Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, offers an eclectic mix of old and new.

Among the most startling additions to the modern skyline are the Flame Towers, a trio of sky-high structures that resemble tongues of fire reaching high over the Caspian Sea.

Designed by US architecture firm HOK, and with Tower 1 standing at 182 meters, they’re the tallest buildings in Azerbaijan.

And visitors can stay in them — one building’s residential, one is for office use, while the third, the 165-meter-tall Fairmont Baku, is a contemporary five-star hotel.

Enter the flame

The towers can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, but night is when they truly come alive. Orange, red and pink LED lights dance across the towers like burning flames.

For some in Baku, they’re now a symbol of home.

“You can see Flame Towers as you fly into the airport, lit up with multicolored lights and shining the way,” fashion designer and media professional Nina Zandnia tells CNN Travel. “They’re the sign that lets everybody know they’ve reached Azerbaijan.”

So what’s it like to stay in one of the country’s most familiar landmarks? It’s certainly no ordinary hotel.

The bold, sometimes bombastic statements begin with the dramatic exterior and keep going all the way inside.

The venue’s seven-story lobby is dominated by an extravagant chandelier, using five kilometers of strands, decorated with 840 lights and more than 600,000 crystal beads, and weighing a whopping two metric tons.

Taking pride of place below is a limited edition black and red Fazioli, one of the most expensive pianos in the world. The M Liminal, designed by NYT Line and Philippe Gendre, was purportedly accompanied Nigar Jamal and Eldar Gasimov in the performance that took Azerbaijan to victory in the 2011 edition of the annual Eurovision song contest.

Guests shouldn’t expect to hear it used in any casual jam sessions, it’s now only played by top pianists on special occasions.

Come evening, the Flame Towers put on a light show enjoyed across the city.

Come evening, the Flame Towers put on a light show enjoyed across the city.

Courtesy Fairmont Baku

Sea views

The tower is home to more than 300 rooms, suites and serviced apartments, that range in price from $170 to upwards of $5,000 a night.

Even the most basic offer ceiling-to-floor windows and sumptuously large double beds. The décor is a contemporary luxury mix, with plush carpets and modern furniture. Spacious and comfortable, each room in the hotel either looks out over the city or across the bay into the sea.

Crisp and glamorous as it is, it does have an edge of corporate blandness that falls short of the regal vibes felt, for example, in the nearby Four Seasons.

A typical one-bedroom suite on the 17th floor offers views of the Caspian Sea and, if eligible, access to the Fairmont Gold lounge on the 19th floor, which comes with a private check-in area and concierge service.

The super-fast elevator to the 17th opens onto a spectacular landing with views across the bay. Once inside the suite, there’s a lobby area, are more jaw-dropping views, an office-slash-dining room, with wooden desk and a four-seater dining table.

Then there’s a generous, richly carpeted lounge with an oversized sofa and jazzy signature chair. The separate bedroom has a huge king-sized bed. There’s an enormous walk-in closet stacked with hangers, drawers and laundry essentials that leads into a large bathroom complete with bath and shower room.

In both of the suite’s two bathrooms, there are bespoke toiletries — yes, your name is printed on the shampoo, moisturizer and conditioner bottle. It’s a souvenir just asking to be taken home.

Fairmont Baku, Flame Towers, Baku, Azerbaijan. Five-star hotel

Fairmont Gold: There are panoramic views from the 19th floor.

Courtesy Fairmont Baku

The royal suite

Nice touches, but does the hotel have celeb appeal? Yes, says, Zumrud Ismayilova, the hotel’s PR and marketing manager. Names are not named, but the list apparently includes leaders, royals and celebrities.

“We have had many VIP guests stay at the hotel, but we would never disclose who they are,” she tells CNN Travel. “When our guests come to stay with us, they expect privacy and confidentiality and that is exactly what we give them.”

Positioned at the very tip of the flame, the Royal Suite offers panoramic views of both city and sea. There are two bedrooms, both with en suite bathrooms, a lounge, private dining room, study, a guest bathroom, a kitchen and a grand hallway with chandelier — 375 square meters (4,036 square feet) of living space in total.

“The VIP or family will stay in the suite, but the rest of their party tends to take over the entire floor. We have additional rooms for security and staff, and a suite for extra family members,” explains Ismayilova.

There’s an open-plan living area, private study, a dining room fit for for 12 or more guests and a fully equipped kitchen (for the servants, of course). But the main attraction is the grand en suite bathroom with a vast oyster-shaped bath complete with window view over the bay.


The hotels amenities are a mixed bag. There’s an elegant spa spread over two floors of the hotel with indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, hammam and spaces to unwind. There’s also a fully equipped gym.

The beautifully designed Sky Garden allows guests the luxury of relaxing on the sundeck or taking advantage of the poolside sauna while looking out at the sea. There’s an S-shaped rooftop pool and outdoor bar, which look better from a distance than close up.

It’s best visited come evening. When the sun’s up, the towers reflect the sun and magnify its heat, making this area a frying pan.

Food and entertainment

As you’d hope from a fancy hotel inside one of the country’s biggest landmarks, the main Le Bistro restaurant offers an array of local Azerbaijani wines and delicacies. The Balcon café offers specialty teas and cakes, as well as sushi in the afternoons.

There’s also the Nur lounge which is a funky setting serving cocktails and snacks, and is a good pre-drinks site to soak in the atmosphere before moving onto the hotel’s Jazz Club, a local institution.

“We always recommend people to check out the Jazz Club after 9 p.m., because that’s when it really gets going. It’s very popular with both the hotel guests and the locals, and we always offer something new to keep people entertained,” Ismayilova says.

There are two things that most hotels are unable to provide — a shopping mall and cinema. Fairmont Flame Towers offers both.

Park Cinema provides guests (and members of the public) with six screens, including IMAX, showing the latest Arabic, English and Russian language films.

Next door is the Flame Towers Shopping Mall, due for completion in early 2020. Luxury brands, high street names, cafes and restaurants are all set to take up residency.

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The ‘Land of Fire’ has been burning for 4,000 years

Editor’s Note — Editor’s Note — CNN Travel’s series often carry sponsorship originating from the countries and regions we profile. However, CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reports. Read the policy.

(CNN) — “This fire has burned 4,000 years and never stopped,” says Aliyeva Rahila. “Even the rain coming here, snow, wind — it never stops burning.”

Ahead, tall flames dance restlessly across a 10-meter stretch of hillside, making a hot day even hotter.

This is Yanar Dag — meaning “burning mountainside” — on Azerbaijan‘s Absheron Peninsula, where Rahila works as a tour guide.

A side effect of the country’s plentiful natural gas reserves, which sometimes leak to the surface, Yanar Dag is one of several spontaneously occurring fires to have fascinated and frightened travelers to Azerbaijan over the millennia.

Venetian explorer Marco Polo wrote of the mysterious phenomena when he passed through the country in the 13th century. Other Silk Road merchants brought news of the flames as they would travel to other lands.

It’s why the country earned the moniker the “land of fire.”

Ancient religion

Such fires were once plentiful in Azerbaijan, but because they led to a reduction of gas pressure underground, interfering with commercial gas extraction, most have been snuffed out.

Yanar Dag is one of the few remaining examples, and perhaps the most impressive.

At one time they played a key role in the ancient Zoroastrian religion, which was founded in Iran and flourished in Azerbaijan in the first millennium BCE.

For Zoroastrians, fire is a link between humans and the supernatural world, and a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom can be gained. It’s purifying, life-sustaining and a vital part of worship.

Today, most visitors who arrive at the no-frills Yanar Dag visitors’ center come for the spectacle rather than religious fulfillment.

The experience is most impressive at night, or in winter. When snow falls, the flakes dissolve in the air without ever touching the ground, says Rahila.

Despite the claimed antiquity of the Yanar Dag flames — some argue that this particular fire may only have been ignited in the 1950s — it’s a long 30-minute drive north from the center of Baku just to see it. The center offers only a small cafe and there’s not much else in the area.

Ateshgah Fire Temple

For a deeper insight into Azerbaijan’s history of fire worship, visitors should head east of Baku to Ateshgah Fire Temple.

“Since ancient times, they think that [their] god is here,” says our guide, as we enter the pentagonal complex which was built in the 17th and 18th century by Indian settlers in Baku.

Fire rituals at this site date back to the 10th century or earlier. The name Ateshgah comes from the Persian for “home of fire” and the centerpiece of the complex is a cupola-topped altar shrine, built upon a natural gas vent.

A natural, eternal flame burned here on the central altar until 1969, but these days the fire is fed from Baku’s main gas supply and is only lit for visitors.

The temple is associated with Zoroastrianism but it’s as a Hindu place of worship that its history is better documented.

Merchants and ascetics

Built like a caravanserai-style travelers’ inn, the complex has a walled courtyard surrounded by 24 cells and rooms.

These were variously used by pilgrims, passing merchants (whose donations were a vital source of income) and resident ascetics, some of whom submitted themselves to ordeals such as lying on caustic quicklime, wearing heavy chains, or keeping an arm in one position for years on end.

The temple fell out of use as a place of worship in the late 19th century, at a time when the development of the surrounding oil fields meant that veneration of Mammon was gaining a stronger hold.

The complex became a museum in 1975, was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, and today welcomes around 15,000 visitors a year.

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TSA PreCheck: Unruly passengers can lose their credentials

(CNN) — The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have joined forces in the fight against unruly airplane passengers.
The two organizations released a statement declaring that travelers who cause difficulties can lose their TSA PreCheck credentials.

“Our partnership aims to promote safe and responsible passenger behavior,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in the announcement, which was released on December 21, ahead of the busy Christmas and New Year’s travel season.

He added: “If you act out of line, you will wait in line.”

The TSA and FAA said they will share information about unruly passengers.

Currently, passengers who create problems are subject to fines, and individual airlines can ban certain travelers.

The FAA reports that it has gotten 5,779 complaints of unruly behavior in 2021. Of those, 4,156 are related to mask rules. Only 325 have resulted in active law enforcement cases.
So far in 2021, air travel passengers in the United States have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in such fines, with the single highest — $40,823 — levied against a passenger who brought their own alcohol on board, attempted to smoke marijuana in the plane bathroom and sexually assaulted a flight attendant.
According to the TSA, more than 10 million American citizens and permanent residents have TSA PreCheck. The program allows vetted travelers to bypass certain security measures, like taking off shoes and removing laptops and other small electronics from cases, at U.S. airports.

However, both bodies said PreCheck was a privilege, not a right.

“TSA has zero tolerance for the unruly behaviors, especially those involving physical assault occurring aboard aircraft. We have tremendous respect for airport staff, gate agents and flight crews that get people safely to their destinations,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske.

The changing airline rules amid the coronavirus pandemic have taken things from bad to worse for airline personnel. Cabin crew members, on top of conducting safety briefings and providing food and beverage service, now have to enforce mask rules and other Covid-related hygiene protocols.
In September, flight attendant Allie Malis, government affairs representative at the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, told CNN that it’s becoming more dangerous on board.

“It just seems like every next incident is getting a little bit more extreme,” she said.

Among the reasons Malis cited were smaller plane seats — which can lead to issues over personal space — and alcohol.

“We’ve been putting ourselves on the front line, and quarantining from our families,” she said. “We’re doing our job, we’re not the reason your flight got canceled, we’re not the reason you’re frustrated.”

TSA PreCheck area at SFO airport via AP Photo/Jeff Chiu.

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Texas refinery blast could help push gas prices above $4 a gallon

The blast and resulting fire at the ExxonMobil (XOM) plant in the Houston-area city of Baytown, Texas, injured at least four workers. The accident could hamper output at one of America’s largest refineries for months, weighing on gasoline supply at at time when US refining capacity has already been reduced, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.

“They’re not going to have all systems go for a couple of quarters,” he said.

The average price for a gallon of regular gas now stands at $3.29, down 11 cents from a month ago, but still up $1.05 per gallon, or 47%, from a year ago. Gas prices have been a major factor in the rate of inflation hitting a 39-year high.

Kloza said he would not be surprised to see average prices rise to $4 a gallon in much of the country this spring and summer as the economy continues to recover and demand for gas increases. The limited supply of gasoline due to the loss of refining capacity in the United States and elsewhere will only help lift prices higher.

The good news for drivers — for now — is the refinery explosion won’t immediately send gas prices higher. That’s mostly because the next six weeks — from right before Christmas to early February — is historically the period of lowest demand for gasoline nationwide. Winter weather and short daylight hours discourage people from driving. Wholesale gas prices were up only 2 cents a gallon to $2.19 in early trading Thursday.

“Fortunately we don’t need the gasoline [from Baytown] for the next six weeks,” Kloza said.

4 injured after explosion and fire reported at an ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, Texas, officials say

But by spring, when demand starts to increase again, the lost output from Baytown will likely be felt at pumps nationwide.

There have already been a couple of refinery closures in 2021 due to fires and economic losses that reduced the nation’s refining capacity by more than 500,000 barrels a day. Baytown being offline could more than double that.

Baytown has an average daily capacity to refine 561,000 barrels of oil, according to the US Energy Information Administration. That makes it the fourth-largest US refinery, only 8% smaller than the largest, the Motiva Enterprises facility in Port Arthur, Texas, owned by Saudi Aramco. Baytown is one of only five US refineries with a capacity of more than 500,000 barrels a day.

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Daunte Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, says she’s thankful for the guilty verdicts against ex-officer Kim Potter

“Justice would be Daunte being home. Justice would be no more names being yelled in our streets. And (when) that happens and we don’t have to fight anymore, that’s when true justice will be,” Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, told CNN’s Erica Hill on “New Day” Friday.

“But right now, we’re going to accept accountability, and we’re thankful for that.”

Potter, 49, had pleaded not guilty to the charges in connection with the April 11 shooting in Brooklyn Center, near Minneapolis.

Bryant was asked Friday what she wanted people to know about Wright, who was a father to a toddler.

“Daunte was my son. He had a smile that would light up the room. He was a father. He was — he had his whole life ahead of him. And he was taken too soon, and we weren’t able to see what he was going to become,” Bryant said.

“And we were left with memories, but they were amazing memories.”

She was also asked what she would tell her grandson about his dad.

“That his dad is a part of history. And his name won’t be forgotten, and that he loved him,” Bryant said.

She said she is hopeful that Potter’s sentence will be fair.

The maximum penalty for first-degree manslaughter predicated on reckless use/handling of a firearm is 15 years in prison. Since Potter, 49, has no criminal history, Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence roughly between 6 and 8.5 years in prison.

“No amount of time is going to be justice for us,” Bryant said. “But I am … optimistic that they’re going to do the right thing and give her a fair sentence.”

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