A Little Advice For Insecure Air Travelers

The failed attack Christmas Day on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 has resulted in tighter security — and many questions — for travelers.

The government has played the issue close to the vest. In an early statement, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wasn't specific about enhanced security, saying only, "These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere."

The Transportation Security Administration did issue some guidelines, mentioning additional screening measures, increased patdowns and bag searches for passengers flying into the U.S., and more in-flight restrictions and delays ( _guidance.shtm).

The TSA and other security agencies are in a no-win situation, said Geoff Freeman, senior vice president for the U.S. Travel Association. "But what we've heard from travelers before this incident ... (is that) travelers are confused as to whether a lot of these policies are making them more secure. ... Or is this theater?"

The association, Freeman said, wants to see better use of technology — such as whole-body imaging, hampered so far by privacy concerns — and more frequent use of explosive-detecting dogs.

Until changes do arrive, we will still wait in security lines. For those facing new restrictions, here's some advice: Pat-downs are up dramatically for passengers coming into the U.S., but fear not; the hand search takes only seconds and sounds worse than it is.

Anticipate a long wait, and take an empty water bottle. Airport bottled water is costly.

Of course, standard sensible travel measures still apply:

• Arrive early and expect delays.

• Don't make wisecracks; security personnel will not be amused.

• Bring a book. Or two.

• And wear clean underwear; some searches are more thorough than others.