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Tuesday
Nov142017

NTSB finds 'weak safety culture' at Amtrak after fatal Pennsylvania crash

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Following a 19-month investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board identified 20 different factors that contributed to the April 2016 crash that killed two veteran Amtrak employees and injured 39 passengers when the company's train struck a backhoe and derailed in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Investigators said Amtrak had a "weak safety culture" where employees frequently took short cuts and put on-time performance over safety.

The NTSB previously disclosed toxicology reports indicating marijuana in the system of the train's engineer and cocaine or opioids in the systems of the killed maintenance workers, but they did not conclude that drugs impaired the employees at the time of the crash.

While drug use did not have a "direct causal link to this accident," according to investigators, it is a reflection of a lax safety culture at Amtrak, they said.

The Federal Railroad Administration revised its federal drug testing rules to include Maintenance of Way workers. This rule went into effect on June 12, 2017. Previously DOT regulations only required drug testing for locomotive engineers, trainmen, conductors, switchmen, locomotive helpers, utility employees, signalmen, operators and train dispatchers.

These rules establish minimum requirements for drug testing. Rail companies are free to expand them.

On Monday the FRA said it was adding certain semi-synthetic opioids such as hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone to its testing.

“The opioid crisis is a threat to public safety when it involves safety-sensitive employees involved in the operation of any kind of vehicle or transport,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “The ability to test for a broader range of opioids will advance transportation safety significantly and provide another deterrence to opioid abuse, which will better protect the public and ultimately save lives.”

Railroad repairs were ongoing in the days leading up to the fatal accident. A night foreman was found to have lifted a track closure while a backhoe remained on the track. The day foreman did not restore the closure, according to investigators, leading to a train striking the backhoe at nearly 100 mph.

NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt described the mistake by the foremen as "the fundamental error of the night."

“Under no circumstances should you clear foul times with men and equipment fouling the track,” said Joe Gordon, who investigated track and engineering issues for the board.

Among the contributing factors to the crash were lack of communication between employees, improper establishment of work zones, lack of shunts and pressure from managers to keep trains on time.

Positive Train Control had been installed in the Northeast Corridor where the crash occurred, but investigators said a series of human errors, such as not properly establishing the work zone, circumvented PTC technology.

Despite Amtrak requiring the use of shunts at the time, investigators said the maintenance workers did not have them at the accident site. The NTSB said the shunts could have signaled that the track was occupied and prevented the crash.

Amtrak has since purchased thousands of the devices.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods told ABC News that Amtrak has "taken a series of actions to improve workplace safety at Amtrak," but did not respond when asked what exactly those actions are.

The engineer of the involved train was fired following the accident, according to Amtrak.

An NTSB spokesperson said the list of board recommendations would be posted later Tuesday.

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Tuesday
Nov142017

Plaza's 'Home Alone 2' package lets guests live it up 

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It's been 25 years since the release of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. To celebrate, the Plaza Hotel, which plays a prominent role in the film, is offering a package that allows guests to live it up like Kevin McAllister.

Rates start at $895, only slightly less than the $967 Kevin spent on room service during his stay.

"In-room and throughout the hotel a variety of experiences inspired by Kevin's time over the holiday's here at The Plaza will come to life for guests to enjoy," according to the hotel's website. "Beyond the in-room experience, guests are invited to dine in the Todd English Food Hall to taste-test a 90s inspired menu with upscale versions of childhood favorites, or to head over to the interactive photo-experience where they’ll find themselves in Kevin’s New York journey."

Included in the package is an "over-the-top" ice cream sundae from room service, just like the one Kevin had in the film.

The hotel concierge will also arrange for guests to experience quintessential New York sights, like the Empire State Building, Wollman Rink and a limo trip through the city.

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Tuesday
Nov142017

Thanksgiving travel: 5 ways to save on flights

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Flying over Thanksgiving: For many, it's a necessary evil. So how can a traveler save money and arrive in time for turkey dinner, with Hopper showing average airfare at $325 per ticket this year?

1. Book immediately

There's no reason to believe there will be an (even more) last-minute deal on airfare over Thanksgiving or any holiday for that matter. Demand is high and prices reflect that. As a general rule, last-minute airfare deals are hard to come by unless people are extremely flexible on their destinations -- which is very rarely the case over the holidays.

According to Hopper, prices will likely go up $10 per day between now and Thanksgiving.

2. If more than one person is flying, first price out seats together and then price them separately.

Because of the ever-more complicated way airlines charge for seats (the front few rows of economy may cost more, for example), the first price you see with all seats together may not be the cheapest seats on the flight. But buyer beware: though there's a good chance the gate agent will figure out a way to seat your family together, it's far from guaranteed. Only you know if your travel companions will be okay if they have to sit alone.

3. Travel on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day typically offers the cheapest flights, fewer crowds and shortest lines. If possible, take a Thanksgiving morning flight that still gets to the destination in time for festivities. If not, try to fly on the Sunday or Monday before Thanksgiving and the Friday after, or not again until the Wednesday following the holiday.

"The busiest and most expensive day to depart is Wednesday, Nov. 22. You can save $54 by departing on Thanksgiving morning, or you can save $48 by departing on Monday, Nov. 20," according to the Hopper's holiday travel index. "The busiest and most expensive day to return is Sunday, Nov. 26. You can save $161 by returning on Wednesday, Nov. 29, instead."

4. Large airports are good friends.

Yes, they tend to be more crowded and more of a hassle to move through. But large city airports can offer cheaper fares than smaller regional airports during the holidays. Competition is fierce at large airports and more competition equals lower prices. Added bonus: flying in and out of large airports means it's less likely a connecting flight is necessary, something that should be avoided at all costs during peak travel periods. Every connecting flight is just one more opportunity for flights to be missed or canceled and bags mishandled.

5. Bypass the baggage fees

Save $25 - $50 each way in bag fees simply by carrying on. Or, fly Southwest, which is the only major carrier to allow two free checked bags.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Nov132017

Consumer goods companies lead US stocks slightly higher 

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street closed slightly higher on Monday, but uncertainty over tax reform and tumbling General Electric shares weighed on stocks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 17.49 (+0.07 percent) to finish at 23,439.70.

The Nasdaq jumped 6.66 (+0.10 percent) to close at 6,757.60, while the S&P 500 finished at 2,584.84, up 2.54 (+0.10 percent) from its open.

Crude oil prices were flat and under $57 per barrel.

Winners and Losers:  Shares of General Electric sunk 7.17 percent when it announced it would cut its quarterly dividend by half.

After reporting better-than-expected quarterly earnings last week, Roku's stock skyrocketed 28.45 percent on news of a Black Friday deal with AT&T's DIRECTV.

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Monday
Nov132017

Dunkin' Donuts doubles down on cookie-inspired flavors for the holidays

Dunkin Donuts(NEW YORK) -- Dunkin' Donuts is betting dollars on cookie-flavored doughnuts this holiday season, taking a cue from the huge popularity of its cookie-dough-flavored coffee.

For the 2017 holidays, the ubiquitous doughnut chain is trying out two specialty cookie flavors: a frosted sugar cookie doughnut with cookie dough filling and topped with cookie crumbles and a gingerbread cookie doughnut decorated with caramel frosting and gingerbread cookie sprinkles.

The cookie flavors follow high demand for the cookie dough coffee flavor, which has been a longtime fan favorite, according to a recent poll that Dunkin' Donuts conducted. The coffee flavor could make a summer 2018 return, since it fared so well in the poll.

This isn't the first holiday season that Dunkin' Donuts has paid homage to holiday cookies. Its 2015 holiday menu had a sugar-cookie-flavored coffee, which is not being offered this season.

Last Valentine's Day, the doughnutmaker's holiday menu featured its first cookie-dough-filled varieties, in heart shapes and with pink frosting.

The company, headquartered in Massachusetts, will be serving holiday-decorated doughnuts and Munchkins — its name for doughnut holes — with snowflake sprinkles.

This year's seasonal cookie-flavored doughnuts will be available by Nov. 20, the company said.

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Monday
Nov132017

Smoking backpack causes panic at Florida airport

iStock/Thinkstock(ORLANDO) -- Travelers at Orlando International Airport were sent running when an unattended backpack began smoking on Friday night.

The cause was not an explosive device, as many feared, but rather a camera battery that caught fire.

Ricardo Perez, an officer with the Transportation Security Administration, leapt into action when the bag first started smoking, moving the backpack between two pillars to shield people from the potential blast. He said his chief concern was protecting passersby from the danger, even if it put his own safety at risk.

"If there was an IED I was already gone," Perez said. "So I might as well try to save as many as I can."

There have been at least 19 incidents involving a battery catching fire on a plane or in an airport so far this year. This comes as the Federal Aviation Administration continues to push for tighter regulations for checked luggage, in part due to the fact that if a bag catches fire mid-flight, crew members can't put it out.

Passengers reported hearing loud banging sounds, causing panic "throughout" the airport, according to the statement. Many passengers fled through the security checkpoints and into the terminal. Authorities had to declare a ground stop and re-secure the airport, a process that takes hours at large airports like Orlando.

Airlines cancelled more than 24 flights and TSA re-screened more than 5,000 passengers after the incident, which security officials said lasted approximately four hours and affected more than 100 flights.

"Our TSA team's performance was outstanding. I'm very proud of our team and how they responded to both the incident and the recovery process of rescreening passengers,” TSA Federal Security Director Jerry Henderson said. “Our people responded as they are trained to do, and to lead passengers to safety. I am especially proud of our Officer who unselfishly rushed to a potentially deadly situation in order to protect lives."

Authorities did not report any injuries from the incident.


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Monday
Nov132017

Some companies still paying Puerto Rico employees despite closed stores after hurricanes

Mario Tama/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Some companies with locations in Puerto Rico, where hurricanes have caused unprecedented death and destruction and power is not yet restored in many areas, have continued paying their employees despite store closures.

TJX, the parent company of T.J. Maxx, Home Goods, and Marshalls, has continued to pay employees based in Puerto Rico, even though some locations remain closed.

"We believe it is the right thing for us to do under these circumstances," TJX said in a statement to ABC News.

J.C.Penney continued paying employees, issuing cash paychecks while access to operable banks and ATMs were limited, J.C. Penney said in a statement to ABC News.

Nordstrom and Starbucks have also paid their employees, while their Puerto Rico locations have closed in the wake of the hurricane destruction.

“We’re working to find opportunities to transfer employees who are interested in staying with the company and will offer some relocation assistance to any employee who needs it,” Nordstrom said in a statement to ABC News.

Starbucks has started an employee assistance fund specifically for workers whose homes and families have been destroyed by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20, destroying communities on the island after Hurricane Irma struck just a couple of weeks before.

A viral Facebook post under the hashtag “PuertoRicoStrong” highlighted some help that TJX provided their employees.

A father thanked the Marshalls parent company for continuing to pay his son even though the store where he worked has closed. He also wrote that the company gave his son supplies.

TJX did not disclose how many of its 29 locations in Puerto Rico have been closed.

Four of J.C.Penney's seven locations on the island remain closed and the company said employees of those stores are still being paid.

The company said it also delivered supplies, like water, food, and generators, for all 1,300 associates

Nordstrom, the American luxury department store chain, also paid Puerto Rico store associates after the devastation caused them to close their one location on the island until further notice.

They paid their employees through Nov. 4th.

The employees had been receiving checks since the stores closed on Sept. 19th in anticipation of the storm, Nordstrom told ABC News in a statement.

The location will be closed until further notice because of the damage caused by the hurricane.

Nordstrom offered those employees a separation package that begins on Nov. 4th.

After the destruction, the company donated to relief efforts in addition to using its company employee relief fund.

Luxottica's eyewear brands have a sizable presence on the island -- 46 locations that include Oakley, Sunglass Hut, Lenscrafters, and Pearle Vision.

Despite thirty locations that remain closed, all 200 employees are being paid. Luxottica also started a Guardian Angel Fund to which company employees everywhere can make donations matched by the company, Luxottica told ABC News in a statement.

Starbucks Corp. has initiated a similar effort called the Starbucks Puerto Rico Tacita Verde Fund, along with Baristas del Cairbe, a Puerto Rican coffee company that is a subsidiary of Empressas Fonalledas Inc. that licenses Starbucks on the island.

The program is a new fund for employee assistance that provides financial grants to employees and their families that need urgent home repairs, food, medical help and among other critical needs, Starbucks said in a statement to ABC News.

Along with donating money for relief efforts, Starbucks, like Nordstrom and TJX, paid employees while locations were closed. All Starbucks employees received temporary disaster pay and were offered hours at other locations if their stores remained closed.

Starbucks did not say how long employees will continue to receive pay.

In the statement, Starbucks said that 18 of its 24 locations have reopened, but they are keeping hours flexible for employees' safety amid the loss of power supply on the island.

Puerto Rico’s goal is to restore electricity for half of the island by mid-November and for 95 percent by mid-December, according to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

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Monday
Nov132017

Iphone X 'Notch Remover' app hits Apple store

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For iPhone X users who want a perfectly rectangular display, they can now splurge on Notch Remover, a new 99 cent app designed to camouflage the top bar that interrupts the complete edge-to-edge display.

After Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the 10th-anniversary edition of the iPhone, pronounced iPhone 10, in September, the design has generated controversy after its edge-to-edge display included a “notch” at the top, which houses all the technology behind the advanced front-screen camera and Face ID.

The notch causes the now most expensive smartphone on the market not to have a completely rectangular display, as most phones do.

App developer Axiem Systems, the makers of photo editor applications for both iOS and Android, is the brainpower behind Notch Remover.

The app doesn’t actually remove the notch but instead masks it by modifying the wallpaper on the phone to adjust for the notch, Notch Remover’s App Store description reads.

Since Notch Remover is available through Apple's App Store, it would have been approved by Apple, according to its developer guidelines that say the company reviews all apps submitted to the App Store.

But this innovation may also go against Apple's developer guidelines that instruct companies not to attempt to hide such features as the notch.

“Don’t attempt to hide device’s rounded corners, sensor housing, or indicator for accessing the Home screen by placing black bars at the top and bottom of the screen,” Apple’s guideline for app developers reads. “Don't use visual adornments like brackets, bezels, shapes, or instructional text to call special attention to these areas, either.”

Apple and Axiem Systems did not immediately responded to ABC News’ requests for comment.

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Monday
Nov132017

CEO of SPENT app talks about how his product is helping people save on travel

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Americans spend a lot in November and December, primarily on holiday gifts. For those in need of a getaway, the final months of the year present a tough time to travel.

However, there is one app trying to help people do both.

The app is called SPENT, launched in 2016 with a focus on making people smarter spenders. It aims to help people manage their expenses while also getting cash back on their purchases.

This year, SPENT launched SPENT Travel, a booking platform enabling users to book trips with cash back rewards. One of their goals is to make travel affordable for folks even during the holidays, when getting away can seem necessary but almost impossible.

SPENT founder and CEO Erno Tauriainen spoke with ABC News and talked about SPENT travel and how he sees his app growing over the next several years.

"SPENT is about enabling people to do what we call smarter spending, and earn cash-back doing it. We give people tools to help manage their money better," Tauriainen says.

The process takes a few steps: download the SPENT app, link it to a debit card, credit card, or bank account, and earn cash back when making purchases through the app. He says SPENT can be used to make daily purchases, such as grabbing a coffee at Starbucks or picking up an Uber home from work.

When it comes to traveling, SPENT Travel allows users to earn cash back after booking a hotel.

Tauriainen claims that users can earn up to 25% cash back on hotel purchases because cash back products work in addition to any rewards and loyalty programs that come with a credit card.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Nov132017

Houston's hometown hero 'Mattress Mack' to open furniture store to 'anybody and everybody' on Thanksgiving

iStock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- The hometown hero who opened the doors of his furniture store in downtown Houston to anyone seeking shelter during Hurricane Harvey announced that he will be hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at the same store "for all people who were affected by Hurricane Harvey, and people who weren't affected."

"We want to get together as a community and be grateful that we’ve gotten through this storm together," Jim McIngvale, better known as "Mattress Mack," told ABC News.

"We’re going to celebrate the things we have to be thankful for," McIngvale, 66, added. "We have had a lot of problems in this community over the past three months, but we also have a lot to be thankful for.

"To me, that’s what Thanksgiving is about, giving thanks," he said, adding that "anybody and everybody" is invited to join on Thanksgiving day.

It has been several months since Harvey's powerful winds and devastating rainfall inundated southeastern Texas, causing catastrophic flooding that damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Even after the deluge of floodwaters receded, some people are still reeling as they work to rebuild their lives and communities.

"I think there is still a massive amount of cleanup to be done," McIngvale said. "There are still a lot of children that are displaced from schools, although that is getting better every day.

"There is a whole lot of mental anguish," he added. "People who have lived in the same house for 10, 20, 30 years ... and then have to have all their belongings in one black trash bag.

"It is up to us to be very empathetic and listen to these people," McIngvale said.

The owner of Gallery Furniture said that he decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner for his community after being inspired by the "resilience" of those most affected by the storm.

"Everyday I’m amazed by the resilience of these people, and how brave they are and how strong they are," he said.

He added that he hopes the Thanksgiving dinner will help people to recover as a community.

"I think if we can get people together around a meal it’s a great way to build relationships, and that’s what we’re trying to do, build relationships and move forward as a community," he said.

While the dinner is being funded out of McIngvale's own pocket, he said that some local food vendors have offered to help out with the cooking, and scores of volunteers have also come forward offering to help out with their time.

"We have hundreds of volunteers who want to come and serve because I think people get as much out of giving as they do receiving," McIngvale said.

He added that he "would not be surprised" if 2,500 to 3,000 guests show up for the Thanksgiving dinner.

Despite the national attention McIngvale received in the midst of the storm, after he opened up his businesses as shelters, telling ABC News at the time, "to hell with profits, let's take care of the people," he said he does not consider himself a hero.

"I think the heroes are the first responders, certainly not me," he said. "The heroes are the ones who went and risked their lives. All I did was open a furniture store."

Despite shying away from being called a hero, McIngvale said he and his family has been touched by the response from the community to his selfless actions.

"The community is great. They all asked me, 'Why did I do this?'" he said, saying that he decided to open his business simply "because it’s the right thing to do."

McIngvale added that he and his wife were "just trying to set an example for our children."

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