The TSA hasn't explained jack. But we found this audio of a pilot explaining the new in-flight security arrangements. Based on that, and what else we know, here's an unofficial guide to travel in the age of the underwear bomb.
Duh: Get To the Airport Early
No one knows what the hell is going on. Some places are reporting that British Airways became the first airline to impose a one carry on bag only rule, to help make the other thing we heard rumours of - mandatory bag searches and secondary pat downs for every passenger flying internationally into the US - go quicker. No word if they're talking about the "personal item" that goes along with the already standard "one bag", but it's safer to assume so. Otherwise, why would they restate the restriction? BA says they'll waive the check in fee, so that's good news. The bad news is that at any time, any other airline can decide to pick up and follow suit, so be prepared to check in a carry on bag (i.e. don't carry on fragile stuff that you can't shove all into one bag.)
Oh! More confirmation just this second from Kotaku's chief, Brian Crecente who is flying back from Australia right this moment with some very whiny kids (not his) a few rows away:
We had a second screening at the gate. Hands on thorough check of every bag. Also asked me to open my laptops, but not to turn it on. Then did a metal detector sweep of everyone and very quick pat down. Male security guards for men, women for women.
His captain said that there would be some security procedures they'd have to follow that "won't hurt" but are "slightly unusual."
Will They Search Your Underwear or Crotch For Air Safety?
No word on crotch pat downs, yet. Update: It appears that the pat downs focus on the "torso" and "upper legs". Upper legs not quite the crotch. I'm torn. I'm happy to retain my security screening virginity, but how will they find the rest of the underwear bombs without going all the way?
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Be Ready For Anything, Especially Surprises
We have heard that only international flights entering the US are going to be going through these pains. But we've seen other data to the contrary, and again, we don't have official word about which flights will enforce these rules, except that we should expect randomness, especially in domestic flights (emphasis added):
Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place. These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere. Due to the busy holiday travel season, both domestic and international travelers should allot extra time for check-in.
However, readers are coming in with evidence that even domestic flights are being restricted somehow.
And from a Gynranger, who flew domestically:
I few yesterday, just a domestic flight, from New York, NY to Savanna, GA. We were allowed to use electronics but during take off until cruising alt and about 30 minutes before landing they made us shut everything off, including iPods or computers and other devices even those that didnt broadcast.
Again, be ready for hell.
The Important Stuff: Gadgets
It sounds, as if we'll be OK between takeoff and landing, with gadgets. British Airways is letting people bring electronics on the plane. Some flights are letting people use gadgets up until the last hour, some the last 30 minutes. But as said in this Jetblue audio recording, there will be no in flight entertainment system; "no movies, no tv, no xm radio, the system is required by federal government to be shut down." But it sounds like most flights are allowing gadgets, and all the variation in restriction is happening at landing.
Where You Are is a Secret. Like the Apple Tablet. So Not Really a Secret.
The government, according to some of our readers, have requested the in flight maps be turned off, too, to, I presume, eliminate the risk of geo precise bombings near the end of the flight? Then again, the flight attendants warning you to not get up the last hour of flight and landing gear dropping are sure signs of landing, so WTF.
It's Always Gonna Be Sweater-Weather
You're not allowed to have anything genuinely useful on your lap in the final hour of flight - the sterile period - and that rule includes blankets and the like. This makes attempting to snooze through the remaining portion of the trip chilly and awkward, particularly since pillows are banned as well, so it might be wise to at least dress warm enough to maintain some semblance of comfort.
Bring a Book or Prepare to Die of Boredom
Bring a book. Not a Kindle, not a Nook, not any other sort of ebook reader, but a plain ol' low-tech book. Because apparently books are pretty much the only thing you can have in your hands during the final hour of your flight ("the government says OK") and how the hell else will you keep from falling into a cold and uncomfortable slumber?
Here, more inconsistency appears, with some readers saying no books on landing either.
We flew from Eugene, OR to San Francisco today: they would not even let us read paperback books that we had brought with us. According to them, the new TSA directive is that in the last hour of flight, we are not allowed to leave our seats, nor use or have anything from our carry-on luggage or personal items.
But it is unclear if the books were being restricted because the flyers didn't already have them in hand, or if they were in bags. Again: Confusing!
Tinkle Before the "Sterile Period" Starts
As if having to abandon your personal items during the last hour of the flight isn't enough, you're not allowed to get up to use the restroom during that time. Since I doubt that your flight attendants would appreciate seeing you break out a bedpan, just plain head to the lavatory before the seat belt sign hits and a line forms.
Then again, some readers are reporting that on their flights, they saw plenty of standing up and walking around going on after the mandatory buckle up:
I must have seen 30 people still doing whatever 20 minutes in and half a dozen people just get up anyways for the final 40 minutes to use the bathroom, go to their bags, whatever, and that was just where I was sitting.
More News Soon, Says Pilot
We've been keeping an eye on what's happening in the news regarding flight security measures and gadget-centric regulations, but based on the pilot's announcement, it sounds like some "more news" will hit the wires "tomorrow". No idea if this recording happened yesterday or today, but we'll find out come Monday. I mean, the TSA has to say something, right? I mean, other than "Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit" with their actions.
That's what we've learned from that almost chilling recording. Of course, whether any of that will actually improve actual security is questionable. One thing is certain: All these procedures have raised my personal terror status to the sunset hue of orange-red. [Thanks, Jake Lodwick]