As I write this, three short days after a guy on a flight into Detroit tried to set his pants (and some kind of explosive device contained therein) on fire, the rules for what passengers are allowed and not allowed to do in a flight, what we can and cannot bring onto airplanes, and how many times we’ll be searched en route to our seats has already changed several times. And I’m pretty sure they’ll change another several times in the next few weeks, as we learn more about what exactly happened and what the TSA can do about it.
I flew from Portland to Washington DC yesterday to spend a week in Central Pennsylvania with my in-laws – so on Saturday I was hunting all over the place online for updates about what exactly the new rules were. I’m a planner, and although I’m a much more roll-with-the-punches traveler than I ever used to be, I still like to know (within reason) what to expect when I go to the airport. But despite the TSA repeatedly telling travelers to check their website for updates, there was little to no information there. I was finding the updates I got from travel bloggers, but I still called Alaska Airlines – just in case. It was a relief, in a way, to have the woman who answered the phone say they were just as confused as I was.
In the midst of my quest on Saturday, I was annoyed with the TSA’s lack of information on their website, and the fact that it seemed like they had disseminated updates to various airlines but hadn’t bothered to share those updates with passengers. These things do take time to work themselves out – I know that. And I’m not going to be surprised if it still takes another month for all security changes to take effect. But I kept thinking of all the travelers who are far less connected to other travelers (not to mention people in the travel industry) than I am and who were just doing what the TSA told them to do and checking the TSA website – only to find nothing there.
My mother, for instance, is packing for a 5+ week trip to Mali. She leaves in three days. When I talked to her on Saturday and told her to call her airline a few times between now and when she leaves, she admitted she’d heard about the near-attack and the TSA’s recommendations but it hadn’t occurred to her that anything would be different for her. And she’s a very savvy traveler. What about the people for whom air travel is more of a novelty?
I don’t want the TSA to be changing rules on a whim only to change them again when they’ve done more research, but I do expect them to keep us informed – especially when they’ve told us to check with them. If they did, indeed, update the airlines with some new security policies that would potentially impact the things passengers would bring onto planes or how early they’d arrive at airports, then it wouldn’t take any effort to copy and paste that press release into the TSA’s website – and put it in big, bold letters at the top.
The TSA does – for the most part – a fantastic job. We don’t hear about it when nothing happens (which is the desired outcome), and when there’s a problem that news is turned up to an inordinantly loud volume. As it should be. “Close” isn’t good enough when you’re talking about airport security. I just wish it didn’t feel like the security rules were quite so reactionary in nature.