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Will new TSA rules doom in-flight telecom?

Forget in-flight wifi or entertainment systems, soon flyers may not even be able to open their laptops on a plane.

Last week's attempted bomb attack on a U.S.-bound flight thankfully failed to take the plane down. But it may have put a temporary – or perhaps even permanent – end to a slew of new communications services and capabilities that had promised to make planes a more productive and enjoyable environment.

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Given the highly-politicized nature of the topic, there are perhaps more rumors than firm details about how exactly the U.S. government will respond to the failed attack. But at a minimum, security measures are likely to be expanded. Very much in the picture seems to be plans to limit passenger's communications capabilities on planes – which comes at a time when options seemed poised to expand.

By some accounts, one measure could limiting the ability for travelers to access and use personal items – particularly electronics –on flights, or at a minimum, during extended periods at take-off and landing. That alone could drastically limit communications on planes, though it appears such restrictions might affect international flights only. Reports are also coming in that airlines such as JetBlue may be shutting down their in-flight entertainment and wi-fi services.

While firm details have been scarce, gadget blog Gizmodo posted what it says is a leaked Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security directive that would indeed ban in-flight entertainment and wireless services. That memo calls for airlines to among other steps, “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.”

The only formal statement to come so far from the TSA is a rather vague one attributed to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place. These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere,” said Napolitano in her statement.

By this afternoon, however, Reuters reported that the initial measures TSA put in place are already being eased.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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