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.