Air Travel 5 Years after 9/11: Protecting you from Scary Pointy Things and Mascara

Posted by: on Sep 6, 2006 | No Comments

A couple of articles over at Salon by Patrick Smith (I really like this dude) outline the rampant fucktardery Americans face on a daily basis when flying: (Yes, other countries are far more rational)
First, this:

If you’re one of the 21 bomb plot suspects still sitting in British prison right now, it’s mission accomplished. No sooner were we told that a London-based conspiracy had come within days of blowing up several jetliners — an allegation now subject to doubt — when we were hit with a gantlet of preposterous security restrictions and a flurry of overreaction:
On Aug. 16, a United Airlines flight en route between London and Washington made an impromptu stop in Boston because a passenger threw an uncontrollable fit. Before being restrained with plastic handcuffs, the 59-year-old woman urinated on the cabin floor, which apparently was reason enough to summon a pair of F-15 fighters to intercept the 767. (She was not the first airline passenger to so relieve herself in an episode of what we used to call “air rage” — a term that has become almost quaint in the current, overcharged atmosphere.) The aircraft was evacuated on the runway, and passengers were delayed several hours while canine units inspected hundreds of checked bags.
On Aug. 19, a Delta Air Lines jet made an emergency landing in San Antonio, Texas, because — brace yourselves — a passenger spent an unusual amount of time in the lavatory. According to flight attendants, the bathroom’s ceiling panels had been moved and the smoke detector tampered with. The man, a resident of San Antonio, was detained and questioned — including a physical search of his home — before the FBI pronounced him “not suspicious at all.” (The decrepit state of lavatories on most U.S. aircraft makes the crew’s reaction even more overblown, but that’s a topic for another time.)
More toilet trouble that same day, when an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Miami made an emergency stop in Tampa, Fla., after the cabin crew discovered two lavatories with locked doors — and apparently nobody inside them. Police and TSA officials unlocked the doors and found the bathrooms … empty.

And reflecting on the 5 years since 9/11:

Conventional wisdom says the terrorists exploited a weakness in airport security by smuggling aboard box cutters. This is bollocks. What they exploited was a weakness in our mind-set — a set of presumptions based on a decades-long track record of hijackings. In the past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever when American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower of the World Trade Center. What weapons the 19 men had in hand mattered little; the success of the attacks relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.
In 2006, for several reasons — from hardened cockpit doors to, especially, the awareness of passengers — just the opposite is true. “Any hijacker will face a planeload of angry and frightened passengers,” says Ross Johnson, a former Canadian intelligence officer and aviation security consultant. “And he will be badly injured or killed by the mob. That introduces significant doubt into his plan.” Say what you want of terrorists, but they cannot afford to waste time and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure.
We, by comparison, are more than happy to waste billions of taxpayer dollars and untold hours of labor in a delusional attempt to thwart an attack that, in some sense, has already happened. No matter that a deadly sharp object can be fashioned from almost anything found on a plane — from a wine bottle to a piece of plastic moulding — we are nonetheless asked to queue for absurd lengths of time, subject to embarrassing pat-downs and confiscation of our belongings, lest anybody make it onto an aircraft with a pair of pointy scissors or a screwdriver.
As a traveler, it’s frustrating to see firsthand the ways in which other countries have streamlined their security protocols. I have traveled extensively since Sept. 11, to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and based on anecdotal observation America’s protocols feel the most jury-rigged and chaotic.
Alas, a frightened American populace seems to demand not actual security, but security spectacle. We equate nuisance with safety: If it is inconvenient and highly labor intensive, our thinking goes, it must be helpful. And although a reasonable percentage of passengers, along with most security experts, would concur such theater serves no useful purpose, there has been surprisingly little outrage, little protest — not from passengers, not from the airlines, not from the media. In that regard, we’ve gotten exactly the system we deserve.

We truly entrust our lives to idiots.