Q: I recently took a United flight from Dulles to Las Vegas, and the only luggage I had was one bag of normal size. When I reached the ticket counter, the agent handed me a ticket, gave my bag back, said I'd have to have it X-rayed elsewhere and directed me and my husband to a place near the security area. I handed over my bag at this second place. A customer service agent told us that it was a "random check." What this was this all about? P.S. I am almost 65.
A: I'm guessing that you don't fit the profile of a terrorist: You probably didn't pay cash for your ticket; your passport isn't filled with stamps to far-flung countries; and, as you mention, you are a nearly 65-year-old woman. So chalk up the experience to pure chance.
The FAA's relatively new "Computer Assisted Passenger Screening" program, known as CAPS, automatically selects baggage that will be subject to more intense security scrutiny. Some luggage is selected "through pre-programmed criteria." The FAA won't detail those criteria for us, but we do know that paying cash and traveling to strange places gives you a better chance of fitting the profile. Other luggage is chosen "on a random basis," and that's apparently the lottery you "won."
Once you were chosen, your bag may have been put through a sophisticated CTX 5000 machine, although no one at the FAA will identify which airports sport the CAT-scan-based technology. FAA spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler said, "We don't say where they are," but added, "At [Reagan] National, there's one in the lobby that you can see. We're not going to deny that one." Or you may have simply been subjected to "bag-matching," a manual system that makes sure passengers actually get on the flight once their luggage is checked.
You're not alone in feeling put out by the CAPS program. Several civil rights groups have questioned whether the program unfairly targets minority groups. The FAA denies that race, sex, color or national origin plays a part in the selection process.
It's safe to conclude that the CAPS program, which is voluntary now, will become a required part of airline security in years to come. In most cases, however, you'll never know that your luggage was chosen; the reservationist will quietly tag the suitcase and airline personnel will transport it to a CTX machine.
Q: I'm traveling to Paris this fall and was told about the PariShuttle from the airport directly to your hotel. It seems reasonable at 85 francs per person for two. However, I don't know how reliable the service is, or if there are hidden charges.
A: I haven't taken the PariShuttle, but the three-year-old company has a good reputation and is considered reliable. It's cheaper than taking a cab and is almost as convenient, plus it doesn't charge extra for luggage. Among several airport shuttle services, PariShuttle and the Airport Shuttle are two of the cheapest. With both, you make a reservation in advance and, immediately upon arrival, call to verify the pickup. They provide door-to-door service, but carry multiple riders.
PariShuttle (telephone 011-33-1-43-90-91-91, fax 011-33-1-43-90-91-10, www.parishuttle.com) charges 85 francs, or about $14, per person for two passengers. The Airport Shuttle (telephone 011-33-1-45-38-55-72, fax 011-33-1-43-21-35-67, www.paris-anglo.com/clients/ashuttle.html) charges about $15.
If you don't require door-to-door service, consider public transportation. The RER express train goes from Terminal 1 to Gare du Nord and Denfert-Rochereau in Paris, while the Roissybus goes from the airport to the 9th District's Opera area. Both cost about $8 each way. Information: 011-33-8-36-68-41-14, www.ratp.fr/index.eng.html.
Q: Is there a travel agent who specializes in family reunions?
Shirley Dawson Connuck
A: Though a cottage industry has developed to serve families seeking communal vacations, I haven't found a travel agency specializing in family reunions that has been in business long enough to recommend. Several that did promote themselves as reunion specialists are out of business. So you'll need to do the legwork yourself. Here are some resources:
* Several books contain a wealth of information. They include "The Reunion Planner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Make Your Reunion a Social and Financial Success," by Linda Johnson Hoffman, Neal Barnett and Lisa-Catherine Cohen; "The Family Reunion Planner," by Donna Beasley and Donna Carter; "Family Reunion: Everything You Need to Know to Plan Unforgettable Get-Togethers," by Jennifer Crichton; "The Family Reunion Sourcebook," by Edith Wagner; and "Family Reunion Handbook: A Complete Guide for Reunion Planners," by Tom Ninkovich.
* Reunions Magazine (1-800-373-7933, www.reunionsmag.com), published quarterly, prints a catalogue of resources; cost is $24 for a subscription, which includes the catalogue, or $5 for just the catalogue.
* Dozens of Web sites are devoted to reunions. Many are simply billboards for companies that sell T-shirts, but a few are worth viewing. Try www.family-reunion.com; www.reunionplanner.com; www. familyreunion.com; www.reunited.com; and www.reuniontips.com.
* Temple University's Family Reunion Institute (215-204-6244) in Philadelphia holds a yearly conference on African American reunions. The conference, with 10 workshops, takes place Nov. 5-7 at the Hilton Philadelphia Airport; cost is $100 plus hotel.
Q: I'd like to send my parents on a vacation highlighting the classical music history of Western and/or Central European countries. Are there any packages catering to this area of interest?
A: Two companies come to mind:
* Dailey-Thorp Travel (1-800-998-4677) does mostly opera trips to Europe, the United States and Russia, but it does offer a few tours that offer classical music, mostly during the summer. The New York agency has been in business for nearly 30 years. Its catalogue for next summer is not yet available, but a typical 10-day tour that visited Munich and Salzburg included performances every day and cost $6,575 per person, plus air fare.
* Herzerl Tours (1-800-684-8488, www.herzerltours.com) offers classical music tours of Austria. "The Sound of Austrian Music," featuring the works and lives of Beethoven, Bruckner, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Strauss, is sold out for its Sept. 18 departure, but additional music tours are planned for spring. The September tour cost $2,575 including air fare from New York.
Also, check with nonprofit groups that offer tours. For example, WETA, the PBS television station based in Virginia, is offering a "European Music Tour" to Prague, Vienna and Budapest in November for $3,775 per person, including air fare. Information: 703-824-7331.
Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost .com), fax (202-334-1069) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071).