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The Travel Detective on New TSA Regulations

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Travel Detective BlogIn the wake of the incident on board Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, airlines, airports and the TSA wasted no time in imposing new rules, procedures and protocols.

Almost all of them are guaranteed to make your next trip to the airport and your next flight experience even worse than you’ve already experienced.

The problem with this knee-jerk reaction, of course, is that it also sends the wrong message about airline and airport security: that it’s not effective to begin with, but more on that later. Keep reading to find out more about the new rules.

The TSA has been extraordinarily quiet about announcing its new security rules, other than to say there would be different rules for different airports and that they would not be announcing them. What the TSA did say (not surprisingly) is get to your airport early.

Click here to watch Peter explain more about what to expect on your next trip to the airport.

Great day to flyIn the U.S., here’s what passengers can count on for domestic flights: a highly visible security show of force at international gateway airports like Chicago’s O’Hare, JFK, LAX, SFO, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, and DFW. That includes bomb-sniffing dogs and an increase in “secondary” inspections such as pat downs and, where available, a greater use of those sniffer machines.

The real changes are coming from individual airlines and overseas airports, with new carry-on luggage limits imposed by airports and some airlines, and new on board passenger rules of behavior.

Click here see how the thwarted terrorist attack has impacted holiday travel.

British Airways is limiting carry-on luggage on flights to the U.S., perfect for the post-holiday crowds. Only one item of hand luggage will be allowed. This is going to be particularly tough for those passengers flying through Heathrow or Gatwick from other parts of the world and then connecting there. They boarded their initial flights with two carry-ons, and will now be denied boarding their British Airways flight.

British AirwaysRemember a few years ago, after the August 2006 liquid scare, British airports imposed the same rule. The result: many frequent fliers, myself included, boycotted British airports and flew through other European airports/cities instead.

Air Canada is also limiting carry-on bags to one per passenger.

And now it gets even sillier:

For all U.S.-bound aircraft originating in a foreign country (this also includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands):

  • Passengers will not be able to leave their seat approximately one hour prior to landing.
  • There will be no PA announcements regarding the position of the aircraft or landing announcements.
  • And remember your one carry-on item allowed? You cannot access it during the one-hour period prior to landing. This also includes magazines, newspapers, books and personal electronic devices during the one hour pre-landing period.
  • All pillows and blankets will be collected one hour prior to landing. Flight crews are being told to stow the blankets and pillows in the galleys and not in the overhead compartments.
  • All on board IFE (in-flight entertainment) systems will be disabled (these are the systems that usually show the electronic map on the screens and the aircraft position).

Now, here’s the real problem … what no one wants to talk about is this: After Richard Reid’s incident with the attempted shoe bombing, we were all then required to take off our shoes and put them on the conveyor belt. Sounds good, except those machines can’t recognize chemical explosives. It was/is all for show.

I’ve said this in the past, and I’ll say it again: It was an attempt to make people who didn’t fly very often feel better. But those of us who do fly very often know better. And there are now many foreign airports that no longer require passengers to take their shoes off.

For the moment, what these new rules represent, at least in my opinion: a pathetic example of history repeating itself.

Here’s what’s not being addressed during all of this:

  • On U.S. domestic flights, while the TSA is still strip-searching nuns looking for tweezers, a majority of the cargo carried in the very bellies of those flights is not inspected.
  • Most technology being used at airport security screening checkpoints is not able to recognize PETN or other chemical explosives. And let us not forget that a syringe is not a prohibited item.

The real key here is that either you clear through security and the security systems are effective, or they’re not. Denying me an extra carry-on bag, or a book, or a blanket, or not allowing me to leave my seat during the last hour of flight does little to camouflage the weakness of current airport security systems on the ground.

More on the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA:

And so once again, as well intentioned as these new rules may be, thousands upon thousands of passengers will be delayed and/or inconvenienced, and the actual level of security will essentially remain the same at best.

My advice: get to the airport two to three hours early for domestic fights, four hours early for international flights, and if at all possible on domestic flights, do what I do: courier your bags ahead of time. I use FedEx, but there are more than a dozen other services, including UPS, that can do this for you.

In the past I’ve saved two and a half hours per flight by not checking bags. Now I’ll probably save even more time.

By Peter Greenberg for

More on the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA: