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Monday 28 December, 2009
Here's a second update on the changes to
security procedures subsequent to what some people are now referring to
as the crotch-bomber and his failed attempt to blow up a NW A330 from
AMS to DTW on Christmas day.
This email is primarily to tell you what to
expect over the next few days; I'll be providing more extensive analysis
and commentary on what went wrong and why with my regular newsletter on
Firstly, many thanks to everyone who has
written in, variously with reports on their flight/security experiences
and/or with pithy comments and expressions of frustration. All
have been read, but not all have been replied to.
Your reports on actual security/flying
experiences are and continue to be very helpful - please
The good news - it seems that the new
security procedures apply only to international flights coming in to the
US from foreign points of origin. This also includes Canada.
The illogic of this decision is staggering.
Does this mean our security lords and masters are sublimely confident
there are no terrorists currently resident in the US? If they are
so confident about this, why not abandon all security screening for
flights within the US?
On the other hand, if there is a valid need
for security screening on domestic flights and on international flights
departing from the US (and, alas, there absolutely is) why are our
authorities leaving the huge gaps in the current security screening
procedures unresolved on domestic flights?
Plus, even though the TSA's latest and
semi-secret security directive (reproduced in its entirety below)
applies only to international flights coming in to the US, some of you
have written in to advise of similar restrictions being encountered on
flights within the US (particularly flights involving New York and
Washington DC). Most of you are advising that domestic flights and
the security lines for them are pretty much unchanged, but some of you
are having different experiences.
Unfortunately the TSA's 'wait time
calculator' that gives some information about the length of security
line queues at airports is currently offline so it is not easy to know
what type of impacts are being experienced with domestic flights and
outbound international flights.
The bad news - the new security
procedures for incoming international flights are draconian and
ridiculous, while not necessarily guaranteeing our safety, even
though they surely guarantee to make flying inconvenient and unpleasant.
Expect extra delay to get through security when traveling to the US, and
due to the massive operational disruptions, there's even a possibility
your flight may be totally cancelled.
If you are flying back to the US on a
multiple leg journey - for example, maybe you are flying first from
Prague to Paris, and then from Paris to New York, there may be some
extra delays when checking in at Prague, but most of your delay will
occur in Paris.
Now here is a very important suggestion
- how much connecting time is allowed between your two flights? If
you were previously expecting a tight connection, there's a possibility
that the extra security delays might cause you to miss your flight on to
the US (although there's also a possibility that the flight might be
delayed, because you'll for sure not be the only person in such a
Recommendations (if you're on
an international flight inbound to the US) :
1. Check the status of your flight
prior to going to the airport in case it is cancelled.
2. Allow at least an extra hour to
go through security.
3. If you are connecting en route
back to the US, consider changing your flights to allow for a longer
connect time. Ask the airline to waive change fees in view of
this special change in circumstance. Any airline with any
sense (do such airlines exist?) would prefer to have you on a
realistic schedule than to have to make emergency arrangements for
you after you miss your flight.
What the new restrictions comprise
On 25 December, the TSA issued an 'Emergency
Amendment' (EA) setting in place new security measures applicable to
airlines flying in to the US. This only applies until 2am
Greenwich Mean Time on 30 December 2009; and at this stage, no-one
seems to have any idea what to expect at 2.01am and into the future.
Will everything return to normal? Will the emergency regulations
become permanent? Or something else?
Key measures in the EA comprise pat-down
searches of all passengers in the gate area prior to boarding, and
physical searching of all carry-ons (in addition to the earlier security
procedures when entering the secure part of the airport).
Note that these new pat down searches are
concentrated only on the upper legs and torso, ignoring the apparent
region where the crotch-bomber secreted his 'bomb', and also ignoring
the other prime area for secreting bombs - a woman's breast area.
If you'd like to see how easy it is to hide
things on one's person and how readily available devices are to help
anyone do this, reader Peter writes in to report
Apparently there are two ways to smuggle
liquids into restricted zones such as some football games, or cruise
liners. The "Beer Belly" for guys - abdomen strap-on holding
up to 80 oz, and the "Wine Rack" for gals, the inflatable bra
holding up to two pints.
You can see the
And then, once on the flight, there are five
new security measures :
1. Passengers must remain in seats
beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
2. Passenger access to carry-on baggage is prohibited beginning
1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
3. Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems
and services (phone, internet access services, live television
programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and
during all phases of flight.
4. While over U.S. airspace, flight crew may not make any
announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over
cities or landmarks.
5. Passengers may not have any blankets, pillows, or personal
belongings on the lap beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at
These requirements have been interpreted
by airlines in varying ways and with varying degrees of compliance.
Some readers report flights in which the crew rolled their eyes when
advising of the new restrictions and basically said they would not
enforce them, and other readers report that flight crew were allowing
passengers to go to the bathroom, but that a crew member would escort
the passenger to and from the bathroom.
Apparently also some flights have the crew
making a big thing about ensuring passengers go to the bathroom in the
30 minutes prior to the one hour deadline, but that is not enough time
for all passengers to use the bathrooms. It seems to take a person
anywhere from two to many minutes to use a bathroom, and with fewer than
one bathroom per thirty passengers on a plane, that means you should
allow for more than an hour for all passengers to take a bathroom break,
and that would also mean that the passengers who went at the beginning
of the one hour 'now is your last chance' period end up with a minimum
of 2 or more hours from then until their next chance to get to a
This is an important implication of the
'can't get up one hour prior to landing' rule. It is not the same
as 'can't go to the bathroom for an hour' - due to the lines of people
prior to the one hour deadline all wanting a last minute comfort stop,
some people will find they are forced to wait much longer than an hour.
Only the lucky few people who went immediately prior to the deadline
will have a one hour (or longer) wait, everyone else will be waiting for
varying amounts greater than one hour.
Disabling the moving map type information
required some airlines to turn off their entire in-flight entertainment
systems, and for the entire 10+ hour flight, but apparently most
airlines are now working out how to just turn off the moving map part of
the complete system.
The fifth restriction, on having things on
one's lap, has also met varying degrees of interpretation and
enforcement, with one reader reporting that passengers on his flight
weren't even allowed to read the airline's own in-flight magazine, and
other readers reporting that passengers continued to listen to music
For no apparent reason, some airlines have
also been requiring passengers in sleeper seats to return their seats to
the full upright position for at least the last hour, and one reader
reports this was required 80 minutes prior to arriving. The logic
(or authority) for this is totally absent.
One of the more subtle but also significant
things is the level of opposition to these new security measures.
Even though classified as 'Sensitive
Security Information', copies of the TSA's Emergency Amendment have been
widely leaked, presumably by annoyed airlines and possibly even TSA
staff members, and presumably because the airlines (as well as all of
us) are appalled and horrified at the nonsensical and totally reactive
rather than proactive response from the TSA, a response that seems to be
customized to respond solely and exclusively to people seeking to do
exactly the same thing as the crotch-bomber, but not considering any
variations from that failed approach.
In case you are interested, at the bottom of
this email is the exact text of one version of the TSA's Emergency
Amendment (there are different versions for domestic and international
And lastly, let's put this all into
perspective. According to
this article, in the last ten years (including 9/11) there have been
a mere six notable airborne terror attempts involving flights to, from,
or within the US. This means you have one chance in 16.5 million
of being on a problem flight, which is also means you'll encounter one
terrorist event per 3,105 years of continually flying.
Your next flight will probably be as safe
for you as all the flights you've flown to date. But it may be a
whole lot less pleasant.
I'll update you again if needed, otherwise,
stay tuned for Friday's regular newsletter
M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
Aviation Emergency Amendment
Number: EA 1546-09-01
Date: December 25, 2009
0200Z on December 30, 2009
This Emergency Amendment (EA) must be implemented
immediately. The measures contained in this
EA are in addition to all other EAs currently in effect for your
APPLICABILITY: THIS EA APPLIES TO FOREIGN AIR
CARRIERS THAT CARRY OUT A SECURITY PROGRAM REGULATED UNDER TITLE 49 CODE
OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS (CFR) PART 1546.
ACTIONS REQUIRED: If you conduct scheduled
and/or public charter flight operations under a Full Program under 49
CFR Part 1546 departing from any foreign location to the United States
(including its territories and possessions), you must immediately
implement all measures in this EA for each such flight.
The foreign air carrier or authorized air carrier representative must
ensure all passengers are screened at the boarding gate during the
boarding process using the following procedures. These procedures are
in addition to the screening of all passengers at the screening
1.Perform thorough pat-down of all passengers
at boarding gate prior to boarding, concentrating on upper legs and
2.Physically inspect 100 percent of all passenger accessible property at
the boarding gate prior to boarding, with focus on syringes being
transported along with powders and/or liquids.
3.Ensure the liquids, aerosols, and gels restrictions are strictly
adhered to in accordance with EA 1546-06-02E.
During the boarding process, the foreign air carrier may exempt
passengers who are Heads of State or Heads of Government from the
measures outlined in Section I.A. of this EA, including the following
who are traveling with the Head of State or Head of Government:
1. Spouse and children, or
2. One other individual (chosen by the
Head of State or Head of Government)
For the purposes of Section I.B., the following definitions
Head of State: An individual serving as the chief public
representative of a monarchic or republican nation-state, federation,
commonwealth, or any other political state (for example, King, Queen,
Head of Government: The chief officer of the executive branch of a
government presiding over a cabinet (for example, Prime Minister,
Premier, President, and Monarch).
During flight, the foreign air carrier must ensure that the following
procedures are followed:
Passengers must remain in seats beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at
Passenger access to carry-on baggage is prohibited beginning 1 hour
prior to arrival at destination.
Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and
services (phone, internet access services, live television programming,
global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of
over U.S. airspace, flight crew may not make any announcement to
passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks.
Passengers may not have any blankets, pillows, or personal belongings on
the lap beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
FOREIGN AIR CARRIER ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The foreign air carrier must
immediately provide written confirmation to its assigned IIR, indicating
receipt of this EA.
FOREIGN air carrier DISSEMINATION required: The foreign air carrier
must immediately pass the information and directives set forth in this
EA to all stations affected and provide written confirmation to its IIR,
indicating that all stations affected have acknowledged receipt of the
information and directives set forth in this EA. The foreign air
carriers must disseminate this information to senior management
personnel, ground security coordinators, and supervisory security
personnel at all affected locations. All foreign air carrier personnel
implementing this EA must be briefed by the air carrier on this EA’s
content and the restrictions governing dissemination.
No other dissemination may
be made without prior approval of the Assistant Secretary of the
Transportation Security Administration.
Unauthorized dissemination of this document or information contained
herein is prohibited by 49 CFR Part 1520.
APPROVAL OF ALTERNATIVE MEASURES: With respect to the provisions of
this EA, as stated in 49 CFR Part 1546, the foreign air carrier may
submit in writing to their IIR proposed alternative measures and the
basis for submitting the alternative measures for approval from the
Assistant Administrator for the Office of Global Strategies. The air
carrier shall immediately notify its IIR whenever any procedure in this
EA cannot be carried out by the air carrier or its agents or is not
being carried out by a government authority charged with performing
FOR TSA ACTION ONLY: The TSA shall issue this EA immediately to the
corporate security element of all affected 49 CFR Part 1546 air
FOR STATE DEPARTMENT: Retransmittal to appropriate posts is authorized.
The foreign post must refer to STATE 162917, 201826Z Sep 01, Subject:
FAA Security Directives and Information Circulars: Definitions and
Handling, for specific guidance and dissemination.
recognition of the threat to civil aviation, as described in the
information portion of this EA, I have determined that these
circumstances constitute an emergency requiring immediate action to
ensure safety in air transportation. Notice and comment procedures, in
accordance with 49 CFR 1546.105(d), would be impractical and contrary to
the safety of the traveling public.