Update 5: TSA directive begs serious questions for airlines, IFEC

UPDATE 5 (Final update for this thread): Well, I guess we have an answer to my initial question – is the TSA acting in a knee-jerk manner?

British Airways has just confirmed that OnAir in-flight connectivity, offered on its A318 service between London City and JFK, has been switched back on, and that all moving map functionality across its fleet is also back on, per the TSA’s decision to ease its weekend restrictions! Crew are not permitted to discuss specific locations, but otherwise the IFEC community can breath a sigh of relief…for now.

Lufthansa is being less forthright, but it makes a good point. Says a Lufthansa spokesman: “We are following all directives of the respective authorities and are implementing additional measures on our own. Since all these measures are meant to heighten security standards, we prefer not to discuss them in detail in public. Secondly, as you mentioned below, the directives change frequently, so whatever I would tell you today could be false already the next day.”

Happy Holidays!

Revisions have already been made to the TSA security directive, with the agency generally easing off on some of its original demands, although you wouldn’t know that from reading the TSA’s current online statement. The TSA blog is also far too vague.

So what do we know? Specific to in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC), the TSA has stepped back from restricting IFE and electronics on US-bound flights, according to Delta partner KLM’s blog.

The blog’s author – and a man who has been on top of the TSA securitydirective story since he received a copy of the document over the weekend, Steven Frischling – provides additional perspective here.

Canadian operator WestJet, which offers JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV’s live television system across its Boeing narrowbody fleet, has also confirmed the following: “You’ll get to watch your show! The TSA has removed the restriction requiring us to turn off the LiveTV on flights over the US.

Today JetBlue provided clarity on moving map displays. The carrier says its moving map channel is available for viewing, but that it is “working closely with TSA” should the agency decide to change course. Additionally, says JetBlue, it is no longer mandatory for foreign carriers flying to the USA to shut down the moving map display. That decision is now at the discretion of the airline and crew, says JetBlue.

Original Blog:

Is the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) acting in a knee-jerk, reactionary manner in the wake of a failed Christmas Day terrorist attack on Delta Air Lines flight 253? Or is the agency simply trying to play things ultra-safe while it has a good think about what to do?

Those are the questions that airlines, airframers, in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) firms and travelers will be asking in the coming days.

A TSA directive (which expires on 30 December), obtained by a number of esteemed journalists and bloggers, including Steven Frischling from Flying with Fish and Christopher Elliot of elliot.org, is a must read from start to finish, but for all stakeholders in IFEC, the key pars are as follows:

If you conduct scheduled and/or public charter flight operations under a Full Program under 49 CFR 1544.101(a) departing from any foreign location to the United States (including its territories and possessions), you must immediately implement all measures in this SD for each such flight.

During flight, the aircraft operator must ensure that the following procedures are followed:

1. Passengers must remain in seats beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.

2. Passenger access to carry-on baggage is prohibited beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.

3. Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of flight.

4. While over U.S. airspace, flight crew may not make any announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks.

5. Passengers may not have any blankets, pillows, or personal belongings on the lap beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.

It goes without saying (but it must be said anyways) that this could have significant ramifications for the IFEC industry.


Questions that immediately come to mind (but there are many more, I’m sure):

Will this directive be extended past the expiration date?

How far will the TSA go? Could this eventually be extended to domestic service?

What does number 4 of the aforementioned list mean for moving map display firms in particular?

What does it mean for every US-bound aircraft that carries millions of dollars worth of IFEC equipment both now and in the future?

How strong or weak is US wiretapping protocol that they are suddenly concerned about “phone, internet access services” during flight?

If you feel strongly about this issue for one reason or another, please add your comments.

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25 Responses to Update 5: TSA directive begs serious questions for airlines, IFEC

  1. Marshall Jackson December 27, 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    Heck yes, this is a knee jerk reaction. I can only hope that like you mentioned, this is a short-term “ultra safe” deal that will give TSA a few minutes to think about what they really want to do.

    The potential impact on companies that provide internet connectivity and television programming inflight is scary if this thing keeps going, and worse yet, expands to domestic flights.

  2. NewsWonk December 27, 2009 at 9:22 pm #

    Whenever something happens, the TSA has to do something — anything — to prove that they are on top of things. Apparently the TSA believes that someone with ill intent isn’t going to act sixty-FIVE minutes before landing — and that they are incapable of looking out the window to determine if they are over sea or land. How about working the watch list correctly??

    With all the billions TSA has spent, we have seen twice now that the most effective safety measure doesn’t cost a cent: passenger intervention.

    This is absurd. I am writing my Congressional delegation and I hope others will do the same.

  3. Kris December 27, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    This is absolutely a knee jerk reaction. I don’t see how a single one of these regulations will in any way increase the safety aboard aircraft. I really don’t under stand where they get the one hour number from, I would imagine that it is just a round number. It is ludicrous to think that attempts will only happen in the last hour of flight, if you look at prior bombings, the goal is to explode the plane over water, where it will be harder to find the evidence. As we saw in Philippine Airlines 434, the bomb can be assembled in a lavatory well before landing, and just have a timer. None of these make sense, and I hope for the passengers, airlines, and shareholders sake that these crazy rules are lifted in the very near future.

  4. NOtso Dumb December 27, 2009 at 9:53 pm #

    TSA is so smart! Maybe smarter than terrorists I guess.
    Lets see:
    1- Should the airliners keep all windowshades locked closed while over US Aispace? Maybe bad gyuys could look over the windows and figure out their positions…

    2- Should all sort of watches been banned while over US airspace? I mean, the terrorists can calculate flight time, can’t they?

    3- The only people affected with these ridiculous rules are the good guys. The bad guys WILL NOT FOLLOW any rule and will not stay seat! Get that TSA?

    4- Carriers that fly to USA and invested a huge amount of money in their airplanes IFEC will deactivated their system only when flying to USA?? Maybe they could send their planes to Canada and connect with greyhound buses.

    Sometimes is hard to believe that a country so powerfull like USA has people so blind making rules…. sigh…

  5. Cedric Rhoads December 27, 2009 at 9:56 pm #

    This is not a big surprise, but the aspects related to GPS, mapping, communications, etc. are absolutely useless. Clearly they want to deny location-awareness to the passengers. On the surface, this is understandable, but anyone with a lick of sense can pretty well plot where they are in a flight–at least as regards departure and arrival airports–with a watch and by listening to the aircraft as it reconfigures. Of course, the whole 60-minute aspect is useless as aptly stated by NewsWonk.

    Let’s hope that they come to their senses and realize the futility of such a move. Otherwise, the rest of us are penalized for something that serves little, if any benefit.

  6. Kris December 27, 2009 at 10:37 pm #

    I was reading some of the posts from Marshall Jackson, and there seem to be some pretty troubling things mentioned there that are not mentioned here. Although I did see that the directive would be lifted on December 30th, it was unclear wether it was just about the IFE or the entire thing. If this is anything like the Bojinka plot from the mid 90s, I can see the logic behind this, as it was basically a 1 day plot to blow up 10+ US bound flights. This is complete insanity if ti continues for more than a few days.

  7. Oussama December 27, 2009 at 10:40 pm #

    I have the feeling the TSA would prefer that no one flies and the threat will go away. The TSA is making it so hard to travel to the point that the terrorists have won. They disrupted our lives. I am all for TSA and Security screening, but there is a limit. Is the TSA so unsure of their measures that they have to bring life on board to a stand still.

    The whole idea of security screening on ground is to allow the traveling public a comfortable and enjoyable trip.

    The TSA has to think again on how to minimise disruptions to our lives while keeping us safe. Bringing our lives to a stand still is not the answer

  8. Bob December 28, 2009 at 12:03 am #

    Knee jerk? Perhaps, but so was the liquids protocol. That seems to have stayed with us.

    The TSA directives defeat themselves. If you start limiting things at 1 hour before arrival, isn’t that pretty much going to tell you where you are?

  9. m in Seattle December 28, 2009 at 12:42 am #

    The issue here is the ability of this person to board the plane. Patting down everyone is unworkable. **BUT**, heaven forbid, we instill full body imaging, then all the privacy groups are up in arms.
    As you can infer from my post, I am in favor of body imaging, as this is the only way, in this case, if the reports are correct, the explosive would have been found. Don’t get me started on profiling. Yes…another thing to throw up our hands in horror. EL AL does it all the time, and their safety record is pretty good.

  10. LowObservable December 28, 2009 at 2:21 am #

    It’s not a knee-jerk reaction: It’s a calculated move to cover failure (bomb got on airplane) at whatever cost to the traveling proles.

    If there is any rational way in which these measures make anybody safer, I can’t think of it. Why detonate the bomb 30 minutes out anyway? My only guess is that it took him that long to gather his nerves, and it was the last possible moment.

    What does knowing the aircraft’s position have to do with anything? Blow an airplane up at 40000 feet and the bits could land anywhere in a 10-20 mile radius. Or the whole thing could smack into downtown Detroit and do $2.98 worth of damage.

  11. Matt December 28, 2009 at 8:34 am #

    TSA have totally lost the plot, airport security is just theatre. It is so lack luster, give it time and ppl get complacement. Just watch those ppl watching xray screens, it’s too easy to have human error. They need better detection (full bodyscan at all airports), look at what other countries are doing – Israel for instance, their security works. Professionals need to be managing the security screening not ppl who really don’t seem that interested in what they are doing – just going through the motions. Surprised that AMS did not pick anything up. Unfortunately they need to profile people more, if coming from other countires then perhaps implement second stage security at the gate run by US agents (army/FBI etc). They need to look at this no fly list, this guy was on a list – if he could fly then why was he not subject to extra security screening? There are also reports that he was highlighted to US embassy in Nigeria about possible activities he was to undertake, why no action? Someone should stand down over that oversight. This incident has highlighted the pathetic costly process the TSA has put in place, their own procedures and ‘lists’ failed them, how many threats have they foiled? Obviously they deter, what actual attempts have they stopped? These latest procedures are something derived by a stupid man! None of these procdures will stop anything, it’s all for show, to stop ppl going to toilet 1hr to landing, the IFEC, phones and Internet. They need to look at prevention, the stuff shouldn’t be on the plane in the first place. Passenger intervention is key, I noticed this myself on a flight Melbourne – Sydney flight, very suss passenger, crew alerted, plane held on tarmac for some checks, crew very closely monitored him, passengers in area all ready to jump if he tried anything during flight. Ppl need to be more aware and ready to take action. Also what did the air marshall do in this incident……..another costly piece of theatre!

  12. Capt. Ivan Klugman December 28, 2009 at 8:41 am #

    Once again the TSA is living up to it’s industry nickname “Terminally Stupid Agency”. The people who work the front lines are not the stupid ones it”s their politburo management that are. They feel they must take some action prior to the 6 O’clock News whether it is the right course of action or not. I feel sorry for what they are putting my passenger through. Remember however that your crew member must live with this nonsense everyday they come to work.
    When will they get the point that they can screen object all they want and that will not solve the problem. They must start screening people. It’s like the old saying “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.. We have to accept the fact that we must screen people and that some groups are going to be offended. Sorry but it’s for your own safety as well.

    In the mean time it’s time to get off the private jet bashing bandwagon and realize they provide the safety and security that our corporations need.

  13. Mary Kirby December 28, 2009 at 10:24 am #

    Apparently, the TSA has already made some revisions to the security directive (not sure if this means minor tweaks or more significant overhaul). I’m trying to get the DL right now.

  14. m in Seattle December 28, 2009 at 10:40 am #

    “In the mean time it’s time to get off the private jet bashing bandwagon and realize they provide the safety and security that our corporations need.”

    Fine….but when they are accepting $$Billions of my hard earned tax dollars to bail out their stupid business decisions, don’t expect me to fund their conveniences. Sorry…but it’s amazing how fanatical the “pure” capitalists are when it comes to making a profit, yet they turn to their hated “socialism” (read: us the taxpayers) when it comes to paying for their losses.

  15. David Parker Brown December 28, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

    It seems to me that if the TSA is reversing their rules just a few days after enforcing them shows they know this was knee-jerk.

    Yes, they needed to do something, but after 8 years after 9/11 and the shoe bomber, this is the best they have?

    I do not feel confident in their ability right now.

  16. Ivan Klugman December 29, 2009 at 10:13 am #

    M in Seattle..Business Jets are not conveniences they are cost effective business tools that save shareholder money. Senior executives would be doing the stockholder an injustice by wasting there time at the airport. Business Jet have allowed our companies to expand to markets that would not be possible without them. Let’s not forget they also produce a lot of jobs for the middle class as well.

  17. Mark December 29, 2009 at 11:30 am #

    The most likely reason the TSA quickly revised the restrictions on IFE, is because they have no authority to order operators to modify aircraft to “disable” them, and the FAA came knocking on their door to remind who does.
    But in the real world, I am sure it was designed to confuse the terrorists……

  18. av8r December 29, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    As an engineer I was taught to look for the boundary condition, or extreme case. The ultimate preventative measure was proposed in The Onion in their October 16, 2002 issue, entitled: “FAA Considering Passenger Ban” – check it out at http://www.theonion.com/content/node/27687 . I wouldn’t be at all surprised….

  19. m December 29, 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    Captain…. I have no problem with the notion that business jets save time etc…I will take you at your word for that. What I **did** say was that when *I* am bailing out business with my hard earned dollars, I regard the slight “inconveniences” of regular travel as, well… **slight**. Do not forget that those shareholders in those failed companies are us, and I think you would have a very hard time convincing the American public that those failed executives do not need to give up on some of those perks until they are, once again, spending their **own** dollars. In the meantime, conference calls should do just fine.
    (I was answering your reference to “bashing”. When first used, it specifically referenced auto executives arriving in DC begging for $$billions on their private jets and soon morphed to highlight corporate excess in other areas.)

  20. VIKRAM PODDAR December 30, 2009 at 4:48 am #

    With reference to point 4) of the directive, one should strongly consider if there is a need for an outright ban on moving map type products. A good deal of the information in terms of :

    1) Average distance covered

    2) Time to destination

    3) Probable time of entry into US airspace

    is something that any frequent flyer would be aware of.

    Only certain key parameters like altitude which would have more serious security implications could be disabled either through the interactive or through the Crew Terminal. Based on our experience, this does not require any major coding effort.

  21. animation tutorials January 11, 2010 at 4:47 am #

    So what is the response of the TSA – to add even more confusion to the process with the hope that with any kind of plain dumb luck, you’ll be able to flummox another idiot terrorist wannabe? How much is this going to cost the U. S. taxpayer and anyone else who chooses to fly?

  22. Bernhard in CH January 24, 2010 at 7:06 am #

    I agree with screening more intensly. Body scanners should be involved, expecially with suspect people or people on the “no-fly” or “watch lists” (let the people monitoring the body scanners have some fun, but do you really think they care anymore after having screened thousands of bodies – even the most attractive body is boring after it is the 1001st in a day). More solid measure should be forbitting dangerous carry-on articles on a plane like matches (since all flights are non-smoking, who needs matches), alcohol in any form (have the duty free purchases done at the destination airport – see Sydney). Look at todays process: One has to even dump water before security scrrening, but one can buy all the incredients to fabricate a bomb after secreening in the duty free or airport shop areas – that is reduculous. Here is a true field for the TSA to act resonably.

  23. Patricia March 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    Ive only got 8 weeks left to go, until our third baby boy arrives. When will my nesting instincts start.

  24. car gps navigation| January 5, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    We bought a Magellan 700 GPS (since upgraded to 760) a couple of years ago explicitly to take with us when we travel by plane. We never had any problem taking it on a plane. We take only carryon luggage and I usually put it in my backpack. However we have not flown since the liquid restrictions have been in place but I don’t think the tighter restrictions would affect taking a GPS. It’s a great tool when in an unfamiliar area. Don’t know how we managed before!

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