AIR TRAVEL SAFETY -- December 28, 2009 at 4:19 PM ET
How Will Failed Bombing Affect U.S. Plane Passengers?
President Barack Obama said Monday afternoon that he has ordered a review of the U.S. air travel watch list system and air safety regulations following the failed Christmas Day attempt to bring down a Northwest Airlines airliner bound for Detroit.
When they learned of the bombing attempt, federal authorities made sure other flights were OK then added enhanced security and more air marshals on flights, the president said.
Mr. Obama also said he asked his national security team to keep up the pressure on terrorists aiming to attack the U.S., adding that U.S. authorities will not rest until they find everyone involved in the attempted bombing and hold them accountable.
As the holiday travel season winds down, how will the stepped-up security efforts affect the millions of U.S. passengers in the days and months to come?
The Transportation Security Administration, which still doesn't have a leader, said it was implementing a variety of additional security measures at airports:
We have the ability to quickly implement additional screening measures including explosive detection canine teams, law enforcement officers, gate screening, behavior detection and other measures both seen and unseen. Passengers should not expect to see the same thing at every airport ... Passengers flying into the United States from abroad can expect to see additional security measures at international airports such as increased gate screening including pat-downs and bag searches. During flight, passengers will be asked to follow flight crew instructions, such as stowing personal items, turning off electronic equipment and remaining seated during certain portions of the flight ... Passengers traveling within the United States should give themselves extra time to check in and proceed through the security checkpoint before their flight, especially during the busy holiday travel season. TSA advises that passengers traveling on international flights to U.S. destinations allow extra time for security and arrive an additional hour earlier.
Passengers on U.S.-bound international flights will likely witness the biggest changes in security protocol, USA Today reported: "From some destinations, passengers are being advised to arrive at the airport up to 3 to 4 hours before their flights."
The New York Times added that "passengers on international flights coming to the United States will apparently have to remain in their seats for the last hour of a flight without any personal items on their laps. It was not clear how often the rule would affect domestic flights" and that "airlines were ordered to turn off in-flight entertainment systems with maps showing a plane's location, and pilots and flight crews were told not to make comments about cities or landmarks below the flight path."
The Times also examines some more comprehensive (yet invasive) passenger screening technology that could be implemented more broadly.
But before you raise your personal terror alert level about your next flight, statistics guru Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com points out that in the past 10 years "there have been, by my count, six attempted terrorist incidents on board a commercial airliner than landed in or departed from the United States: the four planes that were hijacked on 9/11, the shoe bomber incident in December 2001, and the NWA flight 253 incident on Christmas."
"You could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning," Silver writes.
Using Bureau of Transportation Statistics figures, Silver found that there has been about one terrorist incident on a U.S. flight per 16.5 million departures, 11.6 billion miles flown and 27.2 million hours airborne.
Late Monday, reports emerged that the TSA will ease some of the restrictions, planning to allow captains to decide whether passengers can once again have blankets and other items on their laps or move about the cabin during the tail end of flight and lifting curbs on in-flight entertainment.