New carry-on luggage limits and screening measures after Northwest Airlines terrorist incident

The thwarted terrorist bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit yesterday has triggered a series of new security measures by the U.S. government. Here’s what’s being said by the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security.

Details remain sketchy for now. “Passengers may notice additional screening measures put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights,” according to the TSA.

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What, exactly, are “additional screening measures”?

The answer isn’t immediately clear. I’ve asked TSA for a response. If anyone is flying today, please send me an email or leave a comment here.

According to British Airways, carry-on luggage will be limited on flights to the States.

Please be aware that due to these revised security arrangements for all customers departing on a flight from Heathrow or Gatwick to the US only one item of hand luggage is allowed. They are advised to check-in as normal.

Customers travelling to other destinations outside the United States are not affected.

Air Canada’s site says TSA has imposed several new rules on U.S.-bound flights that would,

limit on-board activities by customers and crew in U.S. airspace that may adversely impact on-board service. Among other things, during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps.

At this point, many media outlets are reporting this will be required of all flights, regardless of their point of origin. (See update #2 for more on that.)

Here’s what Northwest’s parent company, Delta Air Lines, had to say about the attempted bombing earlier this morning:

Upon approach to Detroit, a passenger caused a disturbance onboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253. The passenger was subdued immediately and the crew requested that law enforcement meet the flight upon arrival. The flight, operated by Northwest using an Airbus 330-300 aircraft with 278 passengers onboard, landed safely. The passenger was taken into custody and questioned by law enforcement authorities. Delta is cooperating fully with authorities and additional questions should be directed to law enforcement officials who are leading the investigation.

If there’s anyone out there with more information about TSA’s new security measures (beyond the carry-on restrictions) please let me know.

In the meantime, if you’re flying today, give yourself a little extra time for screening. I might leave a half-hour earlier than you planned — just to safe.

Update #1 (9 a.m.): A Northwest Airlines flight attendant who just went through security this morning clarifies: “I’m recommending three hours for domestic flights, four hours for international flights.”

If you’re traveling today, good luck.

Update #2 (5:30 p.m.): I’ve been monitoring this situation all day. TSA refuses to commit to any specific screening measures, contrary to some published reports. From its site:

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.

I hate it when I’m right about this kind of thing.

Many air travelers are reporting that essentially nothing has changed, in terms of security screening and on-board procedures. I wonder if that’s what TSA means by unpredictable?

Update #3 (7:30 p.m.): An airline insider has emailed me with an actual screen shot of the employee Web site with the new TSA rules. These apply to all inbound flights to the United States:

• All wireless Internet and flight path information must remain off.

• No information will be given regarding flight path or an aircraft’s position over cities or landmarks while flying over.

• One hour before landing, passenger must stow carry-on items and electronic devices and remain seated for the rest of the flight.

• Passengers may not access their carry-on luggage or have anything in their lap.

Again, this does not appear to apply to any domestic flights.

Here’s an internal memo from one airline, courtesy of another airline insider:

The United States Transportation Security Administration will put in effect the following new directives and guidelines for all in-flight personnel immediately.

For all United States bound aircraft originating in a foreign country and including Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands:

– Passengers will not be able to leave their seat from approximately one (1) hour prior to landing. The cockpit will inform in-flight personnel when this should be enforced.

– In-flight and cockpit personnel must refrain from making any PA announcements regarding the position of the aircraft or landing announcements. Cockpit personnel will use the IF alarm system to warn in-flight personnel to take their seats prior to landing.

– Passengers will be allowed one carry-on item or one personal item and will not be able to access this item during the one (1) hour period prior to landing.

– No items can be used/held/accessed/accessible by any passenger, including personal electronic devices, magazines, newspapers, books, etc. during the one (1) hour pre-landing period.

– In-flight personnel must collect First / Business Class PEDs and/or headsets one (1) hour and thirty (30) minutes prior to landing.

– In-flight personnel must collect all pillows and blankets one (1) hour prior to landing. Pillows and blankets must be stored in the galley and not in overhead bins.

– All on-board fixed IFE systems will be disabled and not available to our customers. Do not run or attempt to run any fixed IFE system.

(Photo: phinalanji/Flickr Creative Commons)