Do new post-pantsbomber TSA security directives kill inflight WiFi? (UPDATED)


Buried in the TSA security directive issued to airlines on Saturday, after a Nigerian man reportedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound flight, is this:

1. During flight, the aircraft operator must ensure that the following procedures are followed (...)

# Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of flight.

So, does this effectively kill off in-flight wireless internet services such as GoGo? What about in-flight video, like the Boing Boing Video channel on-board Virgin America, or Direct TV presentation of 24 hour news channels like CNN or MSNBC?

For what it's worth, when I flew back into the US on Saturday on an international Delta flight, the WiFi service which had been promised on the flight was disabled for the entire flight. When I asked attendants whether internet access was simply not working, or had been disabled, two attendants replied that WiFi is typically only offered during the last hour of the flight, and would not be available at all because of restrictions on "last hour" acvitity.

Saturday's TSA directive was initially aimed at international flights, but portions have also been implemented haphazardly on an assortment of domestic US flights, too ("keep 'em on their toes!" seems to be the prevailing explanation for the lack of consistency in implementation). This TSA Q&A for travelers doesn't answer the question. (Leaked text of directive from Boarding Area blog, via Jason Calacanis)

UPDATE, 10am PT: I reached out to sources at US-based airlines today by email, and one replied to say that as presently understood, the TSA directive has not yet been implemented on domestic flights. Some international flights connect within the US, however, and if in-flight internet is disabled on that aircraft, they typically cannot turn the service back on until the plane "overnights" somewhere.


  1. Free Wifi and Maps worked fine allnight on the Virgin American SF to Dullas red eye 26th – 27th. It was actually how I cought up on the news after the holiday.

    It is suprising (to me) how little I care about all this now that I do not fly very much.

  2. To be fair, doesn’t the top of the directive say it expires at 2am GMT on Wednesday? Can’t we at least hope that means that everything will be back to normal by then? Please?…

  3. The “1 hour prior to arrival” thing is kind of odd.
    I guess so it’s so bad guys have a harder time making a mess near a population center, or something? Figuring that there already many restrictions close to take off.

  4. Its really cool that we’re able to make lame jokes about the continued erosion of basic civil liberties. Let’s just start calling the TSA “Incompetent McDignity Raperz” instead. LOL.

  5. Wasn’t it the availbilty of in flight communications that allowed one of 9/11 hijacked plane to be retaken by the passengers preventing more deaths that day?

  6. There appears to be no opportunity or even possibility of questioning what’s going on as ever more crazy, draconian, and pointless directives come into place. Where do we go to seek sober second thought?

  7. This all makes perfect sense. We must make all passengers (even more) miserable because it would not be politically correct to target the infinitesimal minority of travelers who are likely to be security risks.

    I have to submit to a cavity search in order to board a plane from Dallas to LA so we can maintain a free flow of passengers from Lagos, Nigeria?

    1. Like I said in the other thread, American airports should follow the Israeli model and divide travelers into three groups:
      1. Conservative white Christians – they get to board without ANY screening, for they are the only True Americans.

      2. White liberal-leaning non-Christians and Jews – they board after spending an hour in line to get searched and questioned about their political beliefs.

      3. All people with darker skin, all muslims, sikhs, and Hindus (we can’t tell them apart). Possibly Greeks, since they often look a little brown. These people will be delayed 6 hours and miss every flight they’ve scheduled. They will be strip searched, waterboarded, interrogated and lectured on how THEY are the ones who should stop terrorists.

      Brilliant solution, I say.

  8. Pretty soon we’ll all be stripped naked and traveling in TSA-provided robes and slippers. Our clothing will be returned at our destination.

    The TSA needs to admit it, first to themselves and then to the world: there is nothing they can implement which will work in 100% of circumstances.

    The less attractive they make air-travel, the more it hurts everyone, particularly those whose livelihoods depend on the smooth operation of the industry.

    Ingmar’s got it*.

    * And in case you missed Mr. Doctorow’s lushly lucid, core-truth, end-game comment on such matters:

  9. So once again, because TSA cannot effectively screen passengers we must suffer. It enrages me TSA thinks these ridiculous procedures somehow make us safer. Like a terrorist could not figure out to do something before the last hour of a flight. This is why I refuse to fly if at all possible. I have learned to love train travel.

  10. “When I asked attendants whether internet access was simply not working, or had been disabled, two attendants replied that WiFi is typically only offered during the last hour of the flight, and would not be available at all because of restrictions on “last hour” acvitity.”

    What BS from the airline. I’ve used online wifi a few times now with great results. BUT – I was able to start my usage within 10 to 15 minutes after taking off, irrespective of the length of my flight.

    I guess they just Make It Up to fit whatever they wish to cover.

  11. Right now we have a hodgepodge of secret “watch lists”, inconsistent baggage restrictions, and knee-jerk inflight rules. Not surprisingly it’s the very worst of both worlds: invasive and yet largely useless. Personally I’d be much happier with a set of consistent, effective screening procedures. Yes, like the Israelis use (as actually practiced; not crude parodies thereof.) And I suspect any other Nigerians on board that flight would’ve rather been “profiled” in a professional and respectful manner than been murdered horribly by their fellow countryman.

    1. “Yes, like the Israelis use (as actually practiced;”

      As I understand it, Israeli security divides people into three groups – Jews (low risk; minimal screening), non-Jewish foreigners (medium risk; some screening), and Muslims/Arabs (high risk; screening, detention, interrogation). Arab travelers report harassment and missed flights and lawsuits have been filed against the airline, which seems to lose money because of the cost of the security system. How on earth would their system work in the USA, a country with 1000 times the air travel, airlines teetering on the edge of profit, and a population that is a thousand times more diverse, with passengers from every corner of the globe? It would be a nightmare.

      Also, you assume most people would WANT to live under the kind of security that Israelis do. I don’t.

  12. So, no reading books, no knitting, no internet, no phones, no TV… obviously the TSA’s grand plan for preventing terrorist attacks in the skies is to BORE the terrorists to death.

  13. I just flew Virgin LAX->SFO this morning and a) wifi was on throughout the whole 90 minute flight and b) there were no ‘last hour’ restrictions on anything including bathroom use. I’m wondering of some of this nonsense is airline-specific?

  14. My domestic flight was unaffected. I flew Sea-Tac to Anchorage last night on Alaska Airlines. Everything felt very normal. Four minutes to get through security, and electronics off during takeoff and landing only. We didn’t have WiFi, but Alaska planes usually don’t anyway. YMMV.

  15. Wouldn’t it be nice if the TSA weren’t a royal decree-making body whose word is law and instead had to funnel its decrees through Congress?

  16. I really don’t understand the overall “erosion of civil liberties” tone of protest. You’re kidding, right?

    Things are so f-ing convenient now, handed to you, done for you, at your fingertips…it’s turned everyone into a mass of spoiled brats, and it’s sad and (now) less than funny:

    “You’re sitting in a chair, IN THE SKY!”
    I remember when the “convenience” of merely getting on a plane to get to a far away place fast was something incredible. It still is to me. God forbid someone should have to merely read a book on a flight, or busy themselves on their laptops without an internet connection.

    I don’t consider myself a consider myself a conservative, GI-Joe type at all yet not having communications on a flight, be it phone or internet, makes perfect sense to me from a security standpoint, nor does it particularly put me out. There’s a lot that goes into getting from point a to point b safely, so usually I’m just grateful to have gotten where I was going without too much hassle.

  17. The AP is reporting that they’re easing up on those “everybody spends the last hour of the flight in detention” rules. Searching people, body scans, whatever, I least I can see a point to those, but BS like no liquids or having to piss your pants if you can’t hold it in the last hour of the flight is just stupid.

    1. re: “having to piss your pants if you can’t hold it in the last hour of the flight.”

      Don’t tell anyone, but I’m sure you could design a urea-triggered explosion – no hands required. Guys will be issued zip-ties upon boarding; not sure what they’ll do to the women.

  18. You can believe that there are some very strong lobbying interests at stake to make sure that the millions already spent on getting WiFi onto planes will trump those TSA rules.

    It may take a while, but there is no way that those with a heavily vested interest in making lots and lots of money from people feeding the WiFi meter while on JFK–>LAX will let the rules be written in such a way that nixes WiFi on planes for very long.

    Heck the airlines themselves need that revenue stream badly enough and they will certainly figure out how to offset the costs of keeping electronics and WiFi onboard – even if it means individual searches of every bad and pat-downs too.

  19. Guys: why are you shooting off like this?

    What’s the betting that some – or all! – of you will be registered as dissidents and put on the ‘no-fly’ list? And how long do you think it will be before this is extended to rail transport and long-distance buses?

    Remember, we are talking about an agency who can detain you anywhere, at will; and there are disturbing allegations of people being stopped on the highway, miles and miles from the frontier, and beaten up for failing to show the proper ‘respect’ to unifomed TSA goons.

    You do NOT live in a free country and you need to be far, far more circumspect in your comments concerning your rulers and masters.

    Me, I live in a country where our equivalent of Greyhound long-haul buses are stopped by uniformed police, and they go straight to the numbered seats occupied by known dissidents – ‘known’ from unpublished surveillance reports – and haul them off the bus. No ID tags on the officers, no charges, no access to lawyers: just indefinite detention in an undisclosed location while the bus and their baggage rumbles off into the distance. Unlike the TSA, our goons can’t confiscate the dissidents’ mobile phones and wallets, so the victims weren’t stranded and could ring out for a lift home.

    Lucky them, and me, living in a slightly free-er country than the USA. But we, too, have a long, long tradition of politically-active people and blameless joes who walked down the wrong street being harassed and beaten-up by the security forces. What’s new is that you, me and them can be targeted using information-sifting tools, and harassed by new powers – like the ‘no-fly’ list – that were unthinkable outside the Soviet Union thirty years ago.

  20. I’ve got a prostate the size of a grapefruit. I can’t go an hour without urinating. If I urinate into a bottle I’m probably arrested for indecency and for having too much liquid in a single container. Now what?

  21. You do NOT live in a free country and you need to be far, far more circumspect in your comments concerning your rulers and masters.

    Bullshit. Last time I checked, there are plenty of dissidents of many different political stripes criticizing the US government and walking the streets freely. Not to say that abuses of power don’t exist in the U.S. government, but if they were used against everybody who complained about the government here, there’d be 300 million Americans in secret prisons.

    It takes a LOT more than just complaining on a website to get the attention of the FBI.

  22. If they have a concern about attackers “aiming” for a specific location, e.g., over Denver, then you do need to disable WiFi along with the TV map, because otherwise I can (and sometimes do) easily use FlightStats to see where the plane is on my laptop.

    Anyway, the directive only applies to inbound international flights. I lived without WiFi on board for years and I can put up without that particular hour of service. Domestic WiFi will continue to expand. I sure wouldn’t assume any privacy in what you send however.

  23. “concern about attackers ‘aiming’ for a specific location, e.g., over Denver, then you do need to disable WiFi along with the TV map”

    Oh come on! In that case you should also keep all windows closed, and confiscate travelers’ watches. And since some people are good at telling time, we should have planes randomly changing speeds. And since that “1 hour before landing” is a dead giveaway, we should impose the last-hour restrictions throughout the entire flight.

    I realize that attempting to ensure safety might inconvenience me, but is it too much to ask for some minimal cost-benefit thinking? (Answer: Yes.)

  24. “Also, you assume most people would WANT to live under the kind of security that Israelis do. I don’t.”

    Neither do I, and I doubt most Israelis want to either. But as the TSA regulations become increasingly draconian without improving safety, most people will gladly trade to an Israeli model.

  25. Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services,

    It’s a good thing they did this! After all, wireless internet access can make your pants explosions even better!

  26. I spent the weekend engineering a way to disable the moving maps and integrated SMS/email on two of our fleets. Late Sunday night, the TSA rescinded their orders to us, and we’ve left WiFi and moving maps up and running on all our aircraft.

    Note to Xeni and pbundy (#16). Delta’s WiFi uses a ground-based network of cell towers, and a downward pointing antenna. It won’t work until you’re about an hour outside the Continental US. So, no, the FAs weren’t BSing you.

  27. “most people will gladly trade to an Israeli model.”

    Doubt it. The expense alone would sink most American airlines.

    I bet security will improve when we stop fighting wars in five different Muslim countries. I guess we should just expect the odd counter-attack – it’s easy to forget we’re at war when the government wants us to forget we’re at war.

  28. We fought two freaking world wars without losing our dignity and self-respect to this extent.

    I’m going to go read “Here is Your War” so I can remember what Americans used to be.

  29. “We fought two freaking world wars without losing our dignity and self-respect to this extent.

    I’m going to go read ‘Here is Your War’ so I can remember what Americans used to be.”

    — While you’re in your reading nook, pick up “Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps” by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald. Over 110,000 Americans spent World War II in those camps.

    As for air travel, during WWII we were all on the “no fly list.” Most of the airliners in service were converted to transport soldiers and war materiel, and those that remained were regulated on a tight priority list – only travel essential to the war effort was allowed.

    Tdy’s nttld snwflks cn whn ll thy wnt bt thr lttl tbs f g nd thr ntrnt plytys. They’ve still got it incredibly easy compared to the so-called good old days.

    1. “Today’s entitled snowflakes can whine all they want”… etc

      Are you trying to suggest that the TSA’s random-walk approach to “security” actually makes sense in some way? Or merely pointing out that things could suck even worse? The latter is hard to argue with — things could always be worse. (Well, almost.)

  30. Since I have apparently attracted the attention of the consonant weevils, I’ll stand by my comments. Things HAVE been much worse, things COULD be much worse.

  31. My wife is a diabetic and she routinely carries enough insulin and needles to kill the entire flight crew plus several passengers on every flight we take. And this is allowed. BTW: This is our back up plan in case of hijacking – fill up the syringes and pass them out to the other passengers and take out the terrorists in one fell swoop.

    Not to mention the other drugs that people still “have to have” to survive that can kill others. Or the other methods of causing destruction (laptop batteries). Or putting dangerous things, liquids, substances in ordinary containers that are allowed (Maybe that vial of insulin actually contains a deadlier myotoxin or air-borne bacteria to release in the enclosed cabin)

    Which brings me to the solution for all our air-travel worries troubles – unconsciousness. The only way they can ensure the passengers won’t cause trouble will be to knock them out for the duration of the trip. “Ninja Airlines” – you get sneak attacked in your home before the trip, knocked out and awaken to find yourself at your destination.

    I’d pay extra for this type of “door to door” service and it would create safer air traffic. Except for the possibility a crew member goes rogue, the terrorists switch to other forms of transportation, the process kills the odd passenger or any number of bypasses that are inherent in any process.

    Anyways, my point is that there is nothing that can be done to make any process 100% terrorist safe. If someone wants to screw with something to make a statement, it will happen. So the best solution would probably be resolving differences and creating peace. Or total eradication of the conflicting viewpoint through war. I wonder which way the government will go?

  32. What about Canadian plan?

    It seems to me us Canadians could make a lot of money on this situation. We could simply have reasonable rules to fly into canada, and then the americans could screen everyone here, with their own agents (as they already do) before allowing entry. Of course that would result in more flights, business and travel here. Currently all flights from Canada to the US are domestic flights as soon as they take off.

    This is a serious plan – have all flights into the US be domestic flights only – so the US sets up Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, (already done) and London, Amsterdam, Hawaii, Mexico city, and a few others be the only gateways into the US by air. Then they would not have to complain about foreigners letting ‘all this’ happen.

  33. Another area of concern is your exposure to electro-magnetic radiation pulsing through everything trapped in a narrow metal tube for hours at a time. I think this issue will soon become the equivalent of smoking on an airplane.

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