Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Unfriendly Skies


Thank you for flying Knee-Jerk Airlines, where the illusion of safety is always our top priority.

Remember back when authorities in Great Britain foiled a plot to detonate liquid explosives on-board ten airliners bound for the U.S. and Canada? Whether you know the specific details of the 2006 arrests or the terrorist plans, you're damn sure familiar with the fallout from that threat: Since then you've been forced by the TSA to adhere to a set of byzantine, seemingly arbitrary restrictions on what liquids you can and can't stow in carry-on luggage -- how many ounces are acceptable and in what kind of clear plastic bag they have to be contained -- each time you fly. While those restrictions have relaxed somewhat over the past couple of years -- often dependent on how generous the particular security juggernaut you face at the airport is feeling on the day you happen to be flying -- they're still very much in place. The last time I flew north to pick up Inara, the humorless TSA employee manning the scanner took a tube of Crest toothpaste from my bag and held it up in front of me as if to signal to me that I should've known better than to try to get it past him. I wanted to grab it out of his hand and squeeze the whole fucking thing into my mouth, but thought the better of it.

Well, if you thought that that reaction was ridiculously overcompensatory and likely did almost nothing to make you safer in the skies other than maybe forcing you to rethink flying altogether, get ready -- shit's about to get a whole lot worse. In response to yesterday's arrest of a Nigerian man who allegedly tried to blow up a Delta/Northwest flight as it landed in Detroit, transportation officials and Homeland Security are announcing new restrictions on passenger behavior while flying within the continental United States. New rules will forbid airline passengers from getting up from their seats, accessing their carry-on luggage or having personal belongings on their laps during the final hour of flight before landing. This kind of thing has been in place at Reagan Airport in D.C. since the 9/11 attacks; now it'll be implemented nationwide.

Will this make anyone safer? Probably not -- but that's not really the point.

What makes these new restrictions so laughably outrageous is this: They're a reaction to a suddenly perceived threat that's technically been there all along. Like the liquid ban, which was a response to an attempted attack that had already taken place, this is a case of America's ostensibly sharpest minds in the realm of national security responding to a situation rather than planning for it in advance and thereby heading it off at the pass. Did we never realize that it was possible for terrorists to bring liquid explosives onto planes? If so, then why the hell were liquids of a certain volume ever allowed onto flights; if not, then for fuck's sake why not? Likewise, did no one ever consider the possibility that someone could blow up a plane as it prepared to land? And isn't a threat while landing completely arbitrary anyway -- and our reaction to it, to restrict the movement of passengers during landing, just as arbitrary and worthless?

The only way to truly keep us truly safe while flying a commercial airliner would be to put us all through body scanners then have us fly in our underwear, forcing every passenger to check his or her bags and carry nothing on. And even then, I'd bet my life -- literally, because there's no other option -- that those who want to kill us would just find some other way to accomplish their goals.

And then the geniuses at the TSA would simply wind up having to impose a knee-jerk crackdown on something else as a response to that "new threat." If and when that happens, the newer, harsher security measures will be exactly what they are now: a floor show, and nothing more.

28 comments:

idiosynchronic said...

It was nice to have traveled by airliner in this life. I'm not likely to bother again without significant reason if the boobs in charge of the theater think that taking away my books, magazines, iPod, laptop or movie player is going to make this nation any safer.

Mart said...

Right after 911 I was coming back from a business trip and went to the boozatorium and had him pack up my favorite microbrew. He knew me and mentioned that new 911 security would never let me on with these glass bottles. I said I'd give it a try anyway. At security the lady lifted the bag and the bottles clanged. She asked what was in there. I said Sprecher Beer. She said, oh, Sprecher!, let's put it in a plastic tub to keep it safe!

After noting folks carrying on cases of wine on a subsequent international flight, I emailed homeland security. I wrote the bottles could have chemical A and B and when mixed together boom. Or, I smash a wine bottle and I have a weapon a wee bit more intimidating than a nail clipper.

Of course nothing changed until the incident you mentioned.

Burt Carter said...

If I understand this correctly then any terrorist who wants to bring down a plane can still do it just as long as they access their Mr. Wizard science kit from the overhead bin before that magical 60 minute time limit kicks in.

Wait!! The boobs at the TSA could just ban people from wearing watches on planes and then they wouldn't know when Beat the Clock ends.

MEH!!

Kevin M. Hagerman said...

Clearly we're going to have to start flying empty planes. It's the only way to be sure.

Che Grovera said...

I'm already well past the point where I would gladly pay extra to fly a "security-free" airline! Seriously. I'd rather take my chances with the occasional sociopathic goofball than with an unrelenting army of soulless bureaucrats. Why is an airplane falling out of the sky due to some nutjob hopped up on religion any more serious than an airplane falling out of the sky because of a management decision to try to land during hostile weather? Shit happens. Securing the cockpit in the wake of 9/11 was a rational, substantive response; keeping the pilots in control of the plane is a really good idea. Interfering with the free movement of the traveling public is a self-serving, authoritarian response; ceding control to central authorities is rarely a good idea. The TSA could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn't feel any less safe when I fly, but I'd sure as hell be a whole lot happier!

Peach said...

That blows. I'm flying back to the US in summer. I hate flying already so this should help.

That said--I know something about aviation and I know something about chemistry and a tube of powder you can smuggle abord will not bring down an airplane. It will cause a disruption. It might burn some people. It should be looked into...

But it is not a Lockerbie situation.
(for those shaking their heads please look up the Philipines Airline flight that Ramzy Yousef detonated an actual bomb on--over the wing, in a window seat. The airplane sustained damage but was still airworthy. Airplanes are built to take a beating. Believe)

Broken Arrow said...

Somebody should hold my dick while I'm pissing in that tiny little closet they call a restroom. For safety's sake.

Lily said...

Flying home tonight, or trying to. Sitting in the airport in DC. The lovely security folks made me and about half of the rest of the passengers "step aside for additional screening" that included a full patdown and they swabbed everything I carried on for explosive residue. Thrilling.

Add in the crappy weather in Chicago delaying LOTS of flights and tired, screaming children, and my headache that won't go away and you get a super special end to what was a very nice Florida vacation.

I'm not flying again for a very, very, very long time. If ever. Fuck this shit.

Anonymous said...

We always seem to be behind the curve with this shit. Isn't that just so American. Perfectly said.

Jen said...

this will be fun while flying with my 2 year old, who is potty training. it never fails that he wants to pee as soon as we get on the plane, 90 seconds before take off, twice in the middle of the flight, and every 15 minutes in the last 45 minutes of the flight. maybe i'll just let him pee on the seat.

Anonymous said...

It is nice actually see someone recognizes that law enforcement is reactionary by its very nature.

It is important that we remember this when we have policy arguments on how we ajudicate the war on terr.....err..preventing the next man made disaster.

Vermillion said...

You know what would be even safer? Not flying the planes at all. Just leave them on the damn tarmac. In fact, just end the entire air-based transportation system entirely.

It is the only way to be sure, and we MUST be safe.

I never thought I would ever say this, but: My dad was right, Greyhound is better than flying.

(Full disclosure: my dad has a pension from them, and gets free fare)

Busayo said...

The sentiment over here in Nigeria is "Thanks a lot, asshole." It's bad enough that we have such a bad reputation overseas; now things are going to get a lot more difficult for any Nigerian travelling.

Tracer Bullet said...

I'd love for Obama to have the stones to say, "Look, your chances of being a victim of terrorism in the country are infinitesimal at best. We don't need to create new regulations to attack every boogie man that comes down the pike. Man up, you nancies."

Che Grovera said...

You're singing my song, Tracer Bullet. What sucks is knowing what the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, government-regulation-is-the-devil Republican response would be...

Anon said...

...Wow. Are we allowed to breathe on flights, too?

Honestly, this is why I'm preferring Amtrak these days. It may be slower than a car in the long run, but I don't have to stop for gas or the restroom, and security boils down to "common sense" with them.

CNNfan said...

Airline security is layered. When one layer of airline security lapses, the next layer of airline security is activated.

Even at the trial, we may not learn of all the airline security layers which protect us. However, the results alone speak well for airline security.

To those on the passenger and flight attendant airline security layers, as well as those on all the other airline security layers which were not reported on:

Thank you for for working on Christmas.

stipe42 said...

Even at the trial, we may not learn of all the airline security layers which protect us. However, the results alone speak well for airline security.

There was no layer of security that activated here, it was the other passengers that noticed him and held his ass down.

[thinks]

It all makes sense now.

The authorities know full well that only other passengers will ever be in a position to stop something so that's what the horribly intrusive big brother security is for ... it builds the passengers into an uncontrollable rage so that they're just waiting to go ninja on anyone who tries something.

The final layer of security is the fact that there is no final layer of security.

Ethnic Redneck said...

We live in a world run by PR hacks, marketing jackasses, and other utterly useless human beings who believe that the appearance of a thing is more important than its actual effects. Bend over and prepare for your Safety Suppository (trademark pending) America!

MadJuana said...

OMG! Don't get me started! Oops. Too late.

Back in the olden days -- the '60s and '70s -- I liked air travel. Since the "Reagan Revolution," however, I have had an almost unbroken chain of increasingly unpleansant air travel experiences.

It started with scary mid-air malfunctions due to ageing fleets and moved on to diminishing space and discourteous airline personnel and fellow travellers. The downward spiral has just been speeding up since 9/11.

I may need to travel from the northwest to Texas in a couple of weeks. The thought of having to deal with the endless irritants and discomforts involved in flying these days just depresses the hell out of me.

What once was fun and exciting has been rendered utterly miserable by 30-plus years of greed and almost 10 years of lunacy. aarrgh!

Tania said...

Craziness! Thanks a lot, nutjob, for giving them an excuse to make air travel even more miserable.

Apparently the guy had explosive molded to his body beneath his underwear. So I doubt a pat-down would have found it. A strip-search, maybe. So is that next? Or will the magical new 'x-ray' machine they are planning to put passengers through detect such things?

The only bright side is that the guys suffered burns when trying to detonate the explosive. And given where he'd concealed the stuff, they're probably VERY painful....

Anonymous said...

Law enforcement is reactionary because bureaucracies are reactionary. Wait till you see what happens when bureaucrats get hold of your healthcare!

Fred said...

This pretty much sums it up:

http://gizmodo.com/5435188/leaked-homeland-securitys-post-underwear-bomb-airplane-rules

My flight to Europe in April is certainly going to be interesting. While one needs to remember that it was the security at Schipol airport that let this nutsaq through in the first place, we do have the Department of Homeland Stupidity and the Transportation Stupidity Administration to thank for their adding more useless measures to an already useless process.

Mark Tomczak said...

For those traveling within the continental US, it may be useful to note that trains are still fully operational, quiet, super-convenient, roomy, and a lot of fun. They're orders of magnitude slower than an airplane, but when you factor in the TSA's recommended additional time to clear security, the difference begins to disappear for shorter trips.

People who fly across two timezones or intercontinental: I am sorry for your gross inconvenience. It's really unnecessary and a little unfair.

Ben Fleming said...

"TSA - Protecting you from yesterday, tomorrow."

CNNfan said...

Tania... Good one!

;-)


So Just How Good is Airline Security?

Airline Security is So Good that
it makes Terrorists Blow their
own Penises off!

Jeremy said...

I'll feel safe when everyone has to fly in the nude, standing on their heads, with flashlights shining in their arse holes to make sure they aren't smuggling explosives in "old school prison style".

That's when I'll finally feel safe and fly again...

Scott said...

i remember in the weeks after the 2004 tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, these enormous sand levees were piled up all along the coastline beaches here in Los Angeles.
It was ridiculous. After about a month they were flattened again.
Obviously the tsunami threat went away.