TSA in action. Photo by Dan Paluska http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixmilliondollardan/

President Obama has ordered a review of air transportation security screening processes. The failure of current procedures to stop Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from bringing an explosive device on board Northwest Airline’s Flight 253, apparently designed to bring down the plane on Christmas Day, highlights the need for effective, worthwhile security procedures and rules.

Amazingly, it turns out that Abdulmutallab’s father, Umaru Abdulmutallab, a respected Nigerian banker was so concerned about his son, he went to the American embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, to warn US embassy officials he feared his son had been “radicalized,” and while he had no knowledge of any of his son’s specific plans, he didn’t want anyone hurt.

Even so, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano said on ABC’s “This Week,” investigators did not have enough information to keep Abdulmutallab from boarding the flight to Detroit, and that the system worked as it should have.

Was she serious?

Wasn’t there at least enough concern and information to require a pat-down search of Abdulmutallab prior to boarding. Coming home from Paris this fall I got a pat-down along with most every other passenger in our gate area.

Even though the system supposedly worked, DHS and TSA (Transportation Security Administration) have reacted with new draconian security rules and asked countries with flights to the US to heighten their security. We don’t yet know if the same rules will apply to future US domestic flights, or if the new rules will be extended past their apparent December 30th expiration.

Every passenger on flights to the US will be subject to a secondary search at security checkpoints. At the gate area prior to boarding, secondary searches are mandatory. That includes a pat-down search and a hand search of all carry-on. At the gate, security personnel are to ensure the liquids, aerosols, and gels restrictions are strictly adhered to.

This will add time to security checks, and especially boarding, but a pat-down check could have stopped Abdulmutallab. A hand search of carry-on enables TSA to use their explosive detection equipment on carry-ons, and better locate concealed banned items. If done well, the inconvenience might be worth it, but this rule also appears to eliminate passengers boarding with drinks, some foods, and some duty-free items such as perfumes and alcohol, purchased in the secure area of airports. This would take us almost all the way back to the total liquid ban prior to September, 2006. The need for that ban was debunked years ago.

All passengers will be limited to one carry-on bag per person traveling to the US.

I assume that this is to make security and gate lines move faster. I don’t think it will increase security one iota. You don’t need two carry-ons to sneak explosives or weapons aboard a plane.

This is much more than an inconvenience for many, with no security boost for anyone. Airlines handle checked luggage roughly, and have no liability for lost or damaged valuables. If you’re a photographer like me, or a technician, for example, whose expensive equipment, as well as few personal valuables and items, medications, etc. which you can’t afford to have lost, damaged or stolen, won’t fit in a single bag, you must make an impossible choice, and one which doesn’t improve passenger safety.

One hour before landing, all passenger will be required to stow all their carry-on items, including electronic devices, magazines, newspapers, books, childrens’ toys, etc. and remain seated for the rest of the flight. Passengers will not be permitted to access their carry-on luggage, hold or have anything in their lap during this time. No food or drink will be permitted.

If you’ve been thoroughly searched before boarding, will stowing these and the airlines’ blankets and pillows early, actually improve safety? Does TSA really think terrorists won’t think of blowing up their explosive devices during the first hours of flight?

This will be a real hardship for many passengers with a zero gain in safety. Landing delays, and gate delays could push the hour to be much longer. Many older people like me take heart medications which cause us to frequent bathrooms. It’s essential to hydrate during flights, so that need is accentuated. Taking away toys, games, food, and drink for an hour or more from tired toddlers could result in havoc and ear-splitting screaming, making the last flight hour impossible for everyone in the plane, and for what?

We need a common sense approach to airline security, grounded in reality, not “knee-jerk” reactions grounded in shortsightedness. It seems to me the inmates are still running the asylum known as DHS/TSA.

Security expert Bruce Schneier says, “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.”

He’s right, and these new rules haven’t changed his mind, nor mine.