Thank you for subscribing!
Got it! Thank you!

Airport Security: Back To Normal -- Mostly

Flying is getting mostly back to normal after a solid week of uncertainties and over-reactions, although some airports and airlines are enforcing new carry-on bag restrictions.

Flying is getting mostly back to normal after a few days of frothing hysteria on the TSA's part following the Dec. 25 underwear-bomber incident.

The TSA's panicky immediate responses to the incident involved yanking away pillows, turning off in-flight entertainment systems and subpoenaing two bloggers (including our own contributor Chris Elliott) who were just trying to explain to flyers what was going on.

Fortunately, the TSA seems to have realized that situation was untenable. They withdrew the subpoenas and flying has mostly gone back to normal over the weekend, although some airports and airlines are enforcing new carry-on bag restrictions.

What to Expect: Packing Baggage

The biggest remaining inconveniences have to do with baggage. Domestic flights are unaffected.

On flights from Canada to the U.S., the Canadian government has banned all carry-on bags, except for medical devices, musical instruments, infant care items, purses, cameras, and laptops. Air Canada and American Airlines have waived some checked baggage fees as long as this stays in effect, but other airlines, such as Delta and US Airways, haven't.

Flights from Amsterdam, Brussels, or London's Heathrow, Gatwick or City airports to the U.S. are limited to one carry-on as opposed to the previous two. British Airways and United are both waiving some checked baggage fees until things return to normal.

What To Expect: At The Airport

Airlines are still recommending that you arrive at the airport well in advance of your flight. Continental Airlines suggests adding an hour to the usual processing times, which means arriving two hours in advance for most domestic flights.

For international flights heading to the U.S., both Delta and American Airlines recommend arriving three hours before your flight.

Some airport officials have been pushing back against these recommendations, according to the New York Times. Too many people are arriving at airports in the mornings, creating backups, a spokesman for the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport told the newspaper.

Still, we'd advise following the airline recommendations.

Security at U.S. airports has become somewhat unpredictable, which is the TSA's stated goal. Don't expect everyone to get patted down or to have their luggage searched, unlike last week, but pat-downs and bag searches may be happening more often than they used to.

More airports will be using full-body scanners in the future -- the UK and the Netherlands just committed to using the machines -- and those scanners are slower than metal detectors. Right now, the only six U.S. airports using the scanners as primary security devices are in Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Tulsa, according to the AP

What To Expect: In The Air

As before, domestic flying remains pretty much normal.

On international flights into the U.S., the TSA has switched gears to allow pilots to make their own decisions about restricting access to carry-on bags or electronic devices in flight. Most pilots seem to be happy to go back to letting passengers sedate themselves by any legal means available. Still, though, pack a book, just in case.

What to Do

Our advice hasn't changed from last week. Because security measures are still unpredictable, it's better to prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised than to be caught off-guard by delays.

  • If you're flying domestically, arrive at the airport two hours before your flight and be very patient. Print out your boarding pass in advance at home. Expect long, slow lines at security.
  • If you're flying internationally, bring good old analog books for yourself, and small toys and puzzles for children in case the pilot slaps down in-flight entertainment restrictions.
  • Scope out inexpensive airport hotels and make a plan in case your plane is cancelled. Make plans in case you encounter 4-hour, 8-hour, or 24-hour delays. This is always a good idea during the holiday period, but it's an even better idea now.
  • Pack to be searched. Don't just ball everything up and stuff it in your suitcase. Putting things in discrete, zippered compartments or bags helps you reassemble your luggage after the security agent takes it apart.
  • Keep an eye on your airline's website. These regulations may change at any moment.

Read more from Sascha Segan about airplane security via his Twitter account.