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Tuesday 29 December, 2009
Good morning or afternoon
Here's a third update on the ongoing changes
to security after the failed crotch-bomb attack on Christmas Day.
And my continued thanks to people sending in reports of their own travel
experiences, which has been very helpful in attempting to form a
coherent picture of an incoherent situation.
First, a rather scary bit of fyi. It
truly was a crotch bomb.
This article shows pictures of the explosive package and the
underwear in which it was contained.
The scary part of this? Well, after
the shoe bomber, we all had to remove our shoes for inspection.
After the planned liquid bombings, we all have to remove liquids for
inspection. So, now, after the crotch bomber, ......
All joking aside, if we're not being
aggressively poked and prodded in our most personal private parts now,
airport security is not doing its job. Worryingly, no readers have
reported any degree of effective pat-down (or should I now say 'feel
up') to ascertain if they too have a crotch-bomb.
What is the point of patting down our
trouser legs if the terrorists are known to be carrying crotch-bombs?
What is the point in multiple inspections of our carry-on bags if the
terrorists are secreting their explosives around their private parts?
All this extra inconvenience and delay and
hassle is totally for nothing if the security screeners are too
squeamish to actually inspect the part of each person's body where the
crotch-bomber hid an explosive device that, if correctly detonated, was
50% more powerful than that needed to punch a hole in the side of the
We all need to change our security
paradigm. We must not complain at intrusive personal searches.
Instead, we must complain if we and every other passenger is not being
given intrusive personal searches.
Today I'm writing with variously good/bad
news about the evolving response to the crotch-bomber. Confused?
Well, that's probably the best way to describe not just ourselves but
also what is now happening with security.
And, to clarify - if needed : It seems
that all the extra security measures are only being applied to
international flights inbound to the US.
If you are flying within the US, if you are
flying from the US, or if your flights don't involve the US at all,
there will probably be no change in your normal experience, apart from
possible spill over of security congestion if you're at an international
airport that also has flights traveling to the US.
Reading between the lines, the nonsense
Emergency Amendment that the TSA issued in response to the failed
bombing attempt (see yesterday's special
update for details) has attracted such an overwhelming level of
complaint (and ridicule) that the TSA has been quietly backpedalling.
While the TSA refuse to admit to making any
changes to their EA themselves, airline officials have unofficially
indicated they've now been told by the TSA that they are free to choose
how they wish to respond to this new threat themselves. One hour
confined to seats or not, moving map display or not, reading materials
and blankets available or not - all these silly things are now up to the
discretion of each pilot of each flight.
Some airlines have formalized these changes
into official policy - for example, on British Airways, service is back
to normal in all respects. Thank you, BA, for leading the return
to sense and service.
But at the same time that some things are
liberalizing, other things are not. The extra searching of
passengers and their carry-on items is currently still in place, and
we'll probably see this continue in at least some form.
Readers who carefully read through the TSA
EA that I sent in full yesterday will have noted that there was no
mention of restricting the amount of carry-on items that passengers can
take into the cabin. These restrictions have been primarily
instituted by the airlines, with the reasoning being that the extra time
it is taking to search bags is delaying flights so much that, at least
short term, a quick fix is to reduce the amount of carry-on to be
searched and double searched.
Some airlines are responding with
liberalizing their checked baggage policies and charges, others are not;
and you should view this as a negotiable item if you are having to
check something you'd otherwise have carried on; try to positively
negotiate a waiver of any checked bag fee that might otherwise be
applied to the item that you would formerly have carried on.
Point out that under the contract of
carriage that applied when you bought your ticket, the airline has said
you can carry the item onto the plane, and point out the new restriction
is not a government imposed restriction. Show them the copy of the
EA in yesterday's newsletter if necessary.
The restriction on carry-on items has
been more severely applied in Canada than anywhere else.
Because more people fly from Canada to the US than from any other
country, the impact on flights from Canada has been more severe than
anywhere else, and so their official Transport Canada agency decreed
Effective immediately US bound
passengers are not allowed to bring carry-on bags into the cabin of
the aircraft, with some exceptions. Passengers may carry with
them the following items: medication or medical devices, small
purses, cameras, coats, items for care of infants, laptop computers,
crutches, canes, walkers, containers carrying life sustaining items,
a special needs item, musical instruments, or diplomatic or consular
Transport Canada also has authorized the
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to use RCMP and local
police officers to actively assist with some procedures specific to
the screening process. The purpose of this is to alleviate the
immediate pressures at the security checkpoint resulting directly
from the temporary emergency measures announced by Transport Canada
on December 26. Additional searches of passengers and their
exempted items will continue.
Delays can be expected so passengers are
advised to arrive at the airport three hours in advance of their
scheduled flight. These measures are expected to be in place
at least for several days.
WestJet, which does not charge a fee for the
first two checked bags, is allowing passengers to check a third bag with
no fee. Air Canada has dropped excess baggage fees.
Reader John reports that on a flight from
Saskatoon yesterday he and all other passengers were told they could
only take items onto their flight that they could fit in their pockets
or carry in their hands.
The most ridiculous part of the absolute
shambles that this response has become is that some commentators are
describing this as a good thing - suggesting it may be designed to
confuse potential terrorists and to give the TSA and their international
clones more flexibility. This is not a new claim - the TSA have
been hiding behind it for years as an excuse/response when asked
questions such as 'How come the metal detector always lets me through at
this airport without alarming, but at this other airport, it always
alarms?', or 'How come I had to remove my shoes at this airport but not
at that airport?'.
There are many rebuttals to the claims that
this uncoordinated mess is a good thing, and here are simply two :
First, we as passengers have a right to
know what to expect, and what is required of us, so we can fairly
and reasonably plan and optimize our journey based on this knowledge.
As a corollary to this, how can we comply
with security restrictions if we're not told what they are?
Second, if a security measure is
valid/justified/necessary, it should be applied uniformly and
consistently, all the time. Otherwise, at times when it is not
being enforced, our security is being compromised. A terrorist
would much prefer to chance his luck against a security measure that is
only occasionally applied; whereas if the terrorist knows that the
security measure is always applied, he will be prevented from attempting
to exploit the weakness.
A couple of readers have asked about how
the TSA can be held accountable for the promulgation of ineffective but
massively inconvenient restrictions, and who/where/how to complain
and seek review of such measures.
We have almost no opportunities to influence
such policy making. There are two distinctive things about
1. Effective security requires paranoia
that may manifest itself as foolishness. Always remember the
adage that the security people and their measures have to be
effective 100% of the time, whereas terrorists succeed if they are
successful only once.
2. People who devise security procedures
are essentially unaccountable because they can hide behind - rightly
or wrongly - the statement 'If you knew what I know, you'd agree
with what I'm doing, but I can't tell you the secrets I'm privy to,
so you'll just have to trust me'.
The truth is that this Emergency Amendment
was probably rushed out by two or three people working the late shift on
Christmas Day, with no-one else around to consult with and all senior
staff on vacation. They did a stupid/bad job, and that is both why
the EA has a time limit on it (quite unusual), why the airlines resisted
full compliance, and why the TSA are now unofficially relaxing the
requirements of the EA.
The accountability/oversight of TSA and
other security services really is a complex subject that seldom gets
much airing, and which has few obvious solutions. For now,
public pressure to our elected representatives is about all we can do
- but don't go expecting much from President Obama's promised review of
aviation security issue.
You can be sure I'll send out further
updates if (when!) there are further changes that might impact on your
travels, otherwise, stay tuned for Friday's regular newsletter
M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
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