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New Air Restrictions Post Detroit

December 28, 2009 – According to today’s New York Times, the new TSA regulations went into effect over the weekend in response to the attempted terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight that originated in Amsterdam and landed in Detroit on Christmas Day. According to the Times article, beginning today some of these restrictions may be eased and some rules will be left to the discretion of pilots during the course of a flight.

Regular contributor, Betsy Marvin, flew home yesterday from Mexico and emailed the editor this account of what it was like to fly after the new regulations went into effect.

Security Matters

On December 25 a young Nigerian man attempted to blow up an airplane coming in to Detroit from overseas. The following day, new guidelines from the TSA were instituted, and on the 27th, we were scheduled to fly home to Atlanta from Mexico.

This incident seemed unrelated to our trip, that is until we began reading about the changes in security clearances, and we wondered what would happen.

A driver picked us up at our Oaxaca hotel, and we checked in at the local airport without any problem about 90 minutes before our connecting flight. The first hint of a difference came at check-in in Mexico City; for a one o’clock flight, we were advised to be at the gate at 11:30, as we “would be searched!”

We entered the concourse, passing through ordinary security, to find a comfortable coffee shop and spend the next 60 minutes.

At the appointed hour, we walked to the waiting area, noting that not only were few passengers there, but the Delta kiosk for our particular flight was unmanned as well. Finally, some 40 minutes later, with a greater contingency of passengers filling the area, ground crew people showed up, setting up check points. By 12:40 business class passengers began filing through the gate slowly, and were directed to one of two tables established to filter all carry-on baggage. After my purse and backpack were rather thoroughly searched, I submitted (like everyone else) to a complete pat-down.

The process of loading passengers was thus somewhat slowed, but we managed to get off the ground promptly. For the first couple of hours, the only extraordinary part of the flight was the announcement, made several times, that we would not be allowed out of our seats for the last hour before landing, Further, “no personal items” would be permitted on our laps for that time. The latter, we thought, must apply to laptops or other electronic gear, and we wondered about paperback novels! Neither pillows nor blankets could be used then, either. Congregating in the aisles or using lavatories out of our areas would be forbidden throughout the flight.

About 20 minutes before this rigid rule went into effect, one of the pilots interrupted the Harry Potter film many were watching, to reiterate that we would be seat-belted in for the last hour. Immediately lines formed outside the WCs, apparently breaking the “no congregating” rule, but flight attendants seemed unsure how to enforce the contradictory guidelines. At any rate, little happened as we flew over Mississippi and Alabama, and we landed, sans incident and grateful, about ten minutes early!

I’m looking forward to seeing how all this plays out, as time goes on and so do we.

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