The Twitterverse is abuzz with anger over the alleged Transportation Security Administration regulations that have been reportedly slammed into effect on international inbound flights since the foiled Christmas Day terrorist attack on an Amsterdam-Detroit flight.
While the TSA website doesn’t have anything official on their website yet, news outlets such as the Associated Press are reporting that on some airlines, passengers are being told to stay in their seats for the last hour of their flight, with no access to carry on baggage and nothing in their laps – including computers, blankets and pillows.
It’s no wonder that travelers are up in arms. None of these reported new procedures remotely address the original security breakdown. As the New York Times wrote, the man’s own father, an affluent banker, alerted authorities to his son’s increasing religious extremism. He was apparently able to get a visa in Nigeria and pass through security, not once but twice.
The last-hour rule also flies in the face of common sense: What’s to prevent a similarly armed terrorist from blowing up the plane mid-flight? Or early on, when fuel on the plane is at its fullest?
Even though these regulations seem to apply only to international in-bound flights, these regulations couldn’t come at a worse time for the travel industry. After a dismal 2009 spent reeling from the recession, travel agents and international destinations were starting to see an uptick in bookings for 2010 and 2011. Onerous security regulations (which, as 60 Minutes has pointed out, often seem more like “security theater” than actual prevention tactics) may dissuade those who were already on the fence about air travel – especially families with small children, who will find it almost impossible to abide by the stay-in-your-seat-with-no-distractions edict – or those with medical issues.
Business travelers, for whom time spent at the airport is money out of pocket, will also balk – especially if, as reported on international flights into the US, carry on luggage is restricted to one bag. What business traveler hasn’t coped with lost or delayed checked luggage?
As with any change, however, there will be some winners if regulations such as these stick. Off the top of my head, here are a few:
1. Airlines with checked baggage fees (at least in the short term). In 2009, the revenue that airlines received from checked bags were the reason that some showed a profit – and kept others in the black. If passengers are limited to one carry on, these profits will certainly increase. UPDATED: Unless, as Henry points out in the comments, airlines are forced to abandon them all together.
2. Private jet companies. As Stacy Small (@EliteTravelGal), former editor of Elite Travel magazine, pointed out, private flying received a huge bump after 9/11 because of airport hassles. She believes that business travelers who had been told not to use private jets will be allowed to again, to avoid wasting time at the terminal.
3. Drive-to domestic destinations, especially those targeting families. International air travel with babies and small children is already a hassle for parents. These regulations could prove to be the tipping point between choosing a vacation that requires flight travel or picking a spot closer to home.
1. Destinations traditionally popular with international visitors. The global economic downturn has already reduced international visitiation to Washington DC, New York, even Florida. More stringent regulations could exacerbate the trend.
2. Travel industry as a whole Hotels, resorts, travel agents, even (ahem) those of us writers who make our living off of the business. The fewer people who decide to incorporate internatonal travel into their lives means fewer customers – and fewer readers.
3. Airlines, in the long term. Once you lose a segment of the market, they might not come back. Which is bad for….
4. Remaining international passengers. As we’ve seen during the economic downturn, fewer passengers will eventually lead to fewer flights. And fewer flights will lead to increased costs. So now we’ll be paying more money for a much less pleasant experience. And really, haven’t we all suffered enough?
Please add to my list – who do you think will benefit from the increased TSA regulations? Who will lose?