Alas, the holidays are almost over. Sigh. That means it’s time for yours truly to get back to work. And back here in PlaneBuzz.
You know, most holiday periods are relatively quiet in the airline industry. For the most part, Wall Street analysts are not cranking out research notes. All that fourth quarter “pre-announcement” Wall Street stuff has already been disseminated prior to Christmas. Airline CEOs are rarely squawking. It’s not usually a time for any “big time” announcements concerning mergers or other nefarious activities.
This is not the case on the front lines of any given airline’s operations, of course, where airline employees are faced with huge crowds of passengers who are sometimes not in the best of holiday spirits. Especially when flights are cancelled, packed to the gills, or weather rears its ugly head.
But I think it would be safe to say that this particular holiday season has been, well, how can I say this? Just a little bit too newsworthy.
Obviously the biggest topic on your minds, as judged by the contents of my email folder, is the continuing actions of the TSA, following the failed attempt by a passenger to detonate an explosive device on Delta Air Lines/Northwest Airlines flight 253 which operated between Amsterdam and Detroit Christmas day.
By now you all know the basics.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year old Nigerian, successfully passed through a security check at the gate in Amsterdam. This check included a hand baggage scan and a metal detector.
Officials say that Abdulmutallab then apparently assembled the explosive device, which included 80 grams of Pentrite, or PETN, in the aircraft lavatory — after which he returned to his seat where he attempted to detonate the device using a syringe of chemicals.
Passengers and aircraft crew members intervened, and the plane landed safely.
To say that things have been a bit confusing and frustrating for both airline passengers and airline employees since then would be a gross understatement.
Information being given passengers concerning what they can and cannot do while onboard aircraft has seemed to change every hour this week. In some cases it depends on just what particular flight you are on, apparently. One industry veteran we know told us that on his long-haul trans-Pacific flight home this week he was told by the Purser that no, there was no ban on passengers getting up from their seat in the last hour of the flight. This had been the case, however, when this same person flew in the opposite direction earlier in the week. According to the Purser, “All of that is up to the discretion of the Captain.”
I somehow don’t think that is the case.
Meanwhile, our email bag is packed with emails from airline employees, many of whom are flight attendants and pilots — checking in with their take on how ridiculous the TSA has been in the last week.
But as bad, frustrating, and confusing as things have been at U.S. airports, I don’t think they are nearly as bad as they are in Canada, where TSA-mandated emergency rule changes to boarding procedures for U.S. bound flights there have made it a wonder any passengers are flying to the U.S. at all.
As of this writing, if you are in Canada and trying to fly in the U.S, you can only bring “small” purses, laptops, and a very small list of items, including some medical supplies, onboard an aircraft. That’s it.
We talked to one subscriber who works with Air Canada yesterday and he was so upset he could hardly keep the words in the email. WestJet passengers are facing the same new “rules.”
We are told that U.S. custom agents are telling U.S. bound passengers who have purses they consider to be “too large” that they cannot get on a flight unless those purses are checked.
It got so ugly this week that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called in to help with the process. This, after lines snaking out of Toronto’s Pearson International had passengers standing for three hours or more and hundreds of flights had to be cancelled as a part of the collateral damage.
But draconian rules regarding onboard carry-ons is not the only problem. U.S.-bound passengers out of Canada must also now pass through three levels of security: regular pre-flight passenger screening, U.S. Customs, and additional screening that can include physical pat-downs.
And if all of this wasn’t enough — and clearly this next situation hits close to home for me — TSA special agents went after travel bloggers Chris Elliott and Steve Frischling this week for writing about changes in security procedures put in place by the TSA after the bombing attempt.
Frischling writes a blog for KLM. Chris writes the blog Elliott.
According to Chris’s blog,
“We had just put the kids in the bathtub when [TSA] Special Agent Robert Flaherty knocked on my front door with a subpoena. He was very polite, and used “sir” a lot, and he said he just wanted a name: Who sent me the security directive?
I invited Flaherty to sit down in the living room and introduced him to my cats, who seemed to take a liking to him. The kids came by to say hello, too.
‘A subpoena?’ I asked the special agent. ‘Is that really necessary?’
‘Sir,’ he repeated. ‘You’ve been served.'”
Being the good blogger that he is, Chris advised him that he would call his attorney and be back in touch.
According to a New York Times article this morning,
“Frischling said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his lap top computer. Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn’t cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.
”It literally showed up in my box,” Frischling told The Associated Press. ”I do not know who it came from.” He said he provided the agents a signed statement to that effect.
I can certainly relate to that. That is exactly how it goes. Something shows up in our email box. Sometimes we know who sent it. Sometimes we don’t.
It’s then our call as to whether to go with the information or not.
Clearly these two went with the information.
But hey, you J. Edgar Hoover types with the TSA — back off. The information was “out there.”
I can state, flatly, that there were discussions of parts of the new rules included in emails to me. Not the entire documents. But let’s just put it this way — when these directives came down on the heads of the airlines — it was to be expected that the gist of them would be “out there” in no short order.
Chris and Steve did not obtain this information “illegally,” nor was the fact they posted the information going to interfere with any “security” measures contained in the documents. After all — thousands of airline employees received the same information. Or are all airline employees who received the information required to sign confidentiality statements? I don’t think so.
Ridiculous. Just friggin’ ridiculous.
Just like most everything else we’ve seen and heard from the TSA over the last week as the government tries, once again, to cover its rear as once again, the futility of taking our shoes off and removing our clothes every time we fly is exposed, once again, to be the transparent exercise in futility that it has always been.
Yes, there’s clearly a lot more to be said about all this.
But for now — I’ll close today with a short and sweet admonition.
Happy New Year everyone!