Security Fiasco

The Bottom Line On The Latest Measures

The attempted terror attack on Christmas Day has had a significant impact on air travel for Canadians. has compiled a rundown on the current situation along with opinions from airline security experts on how it is being handled.

The repercussions of the so-called ‘underwear-bomber’ are being felt in Canada more than anywhere else in the world. That’s because more people fly from Canada to the U.S. than from any other country. Although being characterized as “temporary”, the recent security restrictions are having a major impact. Canadian airports are experiencing among the worst delays in the world, especially at Toronto’s Pearson International. Some observers are calling the ban on carry-on and pat-down searches, which take up to five minutes per passenger, “security theatre”.

According the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, the security directive to airlines and airports was set to expire on Tuesday night, December 29th, but it has been extended as the agency seeks to further refine it. A new directive will be issued by Wednesday midnight, the TSA has said.

Here is the most recent security advisory from Transport Canada:

“Effective immediately, U.S. bound passengers are not allowed to bring carry-on bags into the cabin of the aircraft, with some exceptions. Passengers may carry with them the following items:

  • medication or medical devices, crutches, canes, walkers, containers carrying life sustaining items, special needs items and items for care of infants
  • small purses, laptop computers, cameras, coats
  • musical instruments, diplomatic or consular bags.

Additional searches of passengers and their exempted items will continue. Delays can be expected so passengers are advised to arrive at the airport three hours in advance of their scheduled flight.”

The Transport Canada security advisory does not mention any inflight restrictions, but an advisory from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration describes what passengers may expect:

“During flight, passengers may 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.”

What To Expect When Flying Back From The U.S.

The U.S. is purposely varying security measures by day and by airport, with the assumed goal of keeping potential threats off-balance.

Currently, U.S. officials are telling Canada-bound passengers they don’t need to do anything different to prepare for airport security and carry-on bags are not being restricted. Nonetheless, passengers are being encouraged to arrive earlier than usual for their flight.

Enhanced Protection Or Security Theatre? The Pundits Weigh In

In the nearly 10 years since 9/11, a debate has raged over the most effective methods to deter or intercept would-be airline terrorists. Many have argued that onerous post 9/11 security measures represent nothing more than show and do little to reduce the actual risk. This view suggests that more money should be invested in foreign intelligence in identifying potential threats rather than inconveniencing millions of air travellers.

Aviation consultant, Robert Mann was quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying : “We need to fight them not at the airport, not in an aircraft, but in places where these would-be harm-doers are developing their ideas and fermenting their plans. We’re focused on fighting the last battle, not the next one.”

Security Analyst Bruce Schneier, agrees. In his blog he comments, “I’ve started to call the bizarre new TSA rules “magical thinking”: if we somehow protect against the specific tactic of the previous terrorist, we make ourselves safe from the next terrorist.”

There is no doubt, however, that technology will continue to play an important role in airport security. The Dutch announced today that they will immediately begin using the controversial full body scanners to screen all U.S.-bound passengers. A manufacturer of the backscatter x-ray machines (often dubbed a virtual strip-search) says the machine would have revealed the explosive device hidden in the undergarments of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Needless to say, the process raises many privacy issues.

The Travel Insider’s David Rowell provides an interesting analysis of the overall security and flying predicament: “Let’s put this all into perspective. According to this article, in the last ten years (including 9/11) there have been a mere six notable airborne terror attempts involving flights to, from, or within the US.  This means you have one chance in 16.5 million of being on a problem flight, which also means you’ll encounter one terrorist event per 3,105 years of continual flying. Your next flight will probably be as safe for you as all the flights you’ve flown to date. But it may be a whole lot less pleasant.”

Bruce Parkinson is a travel industry journalist and regular contributor to as well as sister company,

Photo Credits: Terraxplorer, mr_morton

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