A pilot complains about the airport “security theater.”

June 19, 2008 | By | Reply More

I’ve sometimes wondered what insiders think about pre-flight security. Here is a recent account by one pilot:

Before we take off, I would like to apologize on behalf of this and every airline for the hassle you just endured at the security checkpoint. As is patently obvious to any reasonable person, the humiliating shoe removals, liquids ban, and pointy-object confiscations do little to make us safer.

Unfortunately, the government insists that security theater, and not actual security, is in the nation’s best interest. If it makes you feel any better, our crew had to endure the same screening as the passengers. Never mind that the baggage loaders, cleaners, caterers, and refuelers receive only occasional random screening. You can rest easy knowing that I do not have a pair of scissors or an oversize shampoo bottle anywhere in my carry-on luggage.

Do you remember the little recital at the ticket counter prior to 9/11? They were required to ask you if any stranger asked you to carry anything in your luggage. That was back before officials realized that those who bomb planes might be willing to commit suicide in the process. I always thought it was naive to ask people if they were doing something dangerous or illegal. It was akin to a bank greeting its customers at the door: “Are you planning to rob this bank?” They should have, instead, posted a big sign at the security checkpoint with a simple list of do’s and don’ts. Something like this: “Don’t agree to carry anything on the plane for a stranger. It might be a bomb.” It’s as though the TSA hasn’t ever heard of big well-designed signs, though. It seems like most checkpoints still have security people barking the same four or five things over and over (“No big bottles of shampoo or other liquids!” “Take your computer out of its case”). There are better way to communicate simple ideas over and over–how about a video monitor that plays a well-designed security message?

Despite the silliness of some of the restrictions (my favorite was the banning of fingernail clippers), it is possible that the current version of the “security theater” has saved lives. It might intimidate someone who would otherwise try to destroy an aiplane. But are there more efficient ways to get the job done? The TSA is open to suggestions. In fact TSA has recently announced that it is going to

focus airport security more on passenger behavior and to rely less heavily on metal detectors and X-ray machines to find weapons. That reflects TSA’s new thinking that terrorists reveal their intentions through behavior, and an old reality that checkpoint machines can miss a lot of explosives, detonators and other bomb parts.


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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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