The TSA's Christmas Day security directive, following the Northwest flight 253 terrorism incident, with its prohibitions against passengers roaming aircraft aisles or placing blankets in their laps during a flight's approach, was a short-term response to an emergency situation and some of its elements were widely criticized.
But, starting Jan. 4, the TSA has dug in with "long-term, sustainable security measures," which alter the flavor of the air-traveler experience for flights inbound to the U.S. for the forseeable future.
Some of the Christmas Day mandates about in-flight prohibitions, which drew such scorn, are dropped, but remain optional prohibitions at the discretion of the airlines and pilots.
Under the new rules for U.S. and international airlines in-bound to the U.S., the most rigorous focus is reserved for travelers who are flying from or through countries such as Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. Namely countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism or "countries of interest."
All of these travelers are slated to undergo "enhanced screening," which means full body pat-downs, physical inspection of their property, and vetting by advanced explosive detection or advanced imaging technologies [such as whole-body imaging] in airports where they are available.
The stringent screening of these travelers who traverse so-called terrorist states or countries of interest applies only to current itineraries. In other words, if a traveler has Pakistan stamped in his or her passport from a 2006 trip, in theory there is no mandate that this traveler be subject to the most rigorous screening.
But, in contast to the period from Christmas until now, when all travelers on flights inbound to the U.S. were supposed to get pat-downs and have their property and carry-ons inspected, under the new rules only a majority of travelers -- not all -- will be subject to "enhanced screening" techniques.
However, for the majority of travelers, it appears that high-tech screening devices, when available, will be much more part of the norm.
In sum, it appears that risk-management is at the heart of the new TSA rules.
The most stringent focus is on travelers from countries that the U.S. views as the highest risk.
And, what this all amounts to is that the new rules appear to be somewhat less all-encompassing than those imposed Christmas Day, but are much more imposing than the rules in effect before suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded the Northwest flight in Schiphol Airport.
Without a doubt, the travel experience has once again changed for the forseeable future.
It remains to be seen how the U.S. will beef up security on domestic or outbound flights as these new rules apply only to in-bound flights.
On the domestic front, travelers may see increased law enforcement presence, but there aren't major security changes as yet in place for U.S. originating flights.
On a side note, the TSA has indeed updated its website, in contast to the lack of information there about the new rules earlier today, with this statement. Still, not much detail there.