So, I’m back in Arlington. I had an uneventful flight (not even any turbulence), and Marc’s sister picked me up at the airport (Marc had to work until 11pm). The woman next to be on the plane worked for NASA developing avionics, so she was pretty nifty to chat with. I think it was the first flight in many, many years where I never took out my book or iPod, though we did look through some of my Korea photos on my laptop. The kitties seem happy to see me, and it’s nice to be back in my own space again.
I’m glad that I was not on an international flight, though. In a knee-jerk reaction to the Nigerian nut job bomber-wanna-be in Detroit, the TSA has released a new set of rules for international flights even more idiotic than their usual fare.
Passengers on international flights arriving in the US will until further notice be restricted to their seats for the final hour of their flights. For this duration, they are also not allowed to have anything on their laps – no computers, no blankets, not even books. As if the thought of kids screaming about having to put their GameBoys away wasn’t bad enough, flights will also be disabling their on-board entertainment systems if they contain one of those animated maps that shows how long you have until you reach your destination. I don’t know about you, but having no movies on my 14 hour flights from Korea would have been a form of torture. In addition to all the new on-board regulations, there’s some terminal-side changes being made as well. Passengers will be given a pat-down at the gate (note: by airline staff, not trained security professionals), and they will only be able to bring “one small carry on” onto the plane.
I really have to wonder what on earth is going through the heads of the folks at the TSA other than “Holy crap, we need to put out some new rules to make passengers feel safe!”. Why only the final hour? A bomb could be detonated at any time and cause just as much death and destruction as if it were detonated in the final hour. Also – while I could understand restricting computer (or even “electronic device”) usage, what harm is a book or magazine going to do? In fact, if the Nigerian bomber had been holding a magazine, both his hands would have been too occupied to fiddle with the explosive in his pants! As for turning off the little animated maps – all that goes to show is that the TSA clearly thinks that all would-be terrorists are uneducated and illiterate and are incapable of doing a little planning and math. This is a dangerous assumption to make, as it has been proven time and time again that the folks who arrange terrorist attacks are generally anything but dumb.
However, the most offensive new regulation, to me, is the gate-side pat-down. Airline staff are not trained in how to give a proper pat-down check, and it’s unlikely they would find anything even if it were there. Even beyond the point that flight attendants are probably woefully unequipped to deal with a pat-down (much less the consequences of them act – can you imagine your average stewardess’ reaction to finding a bomb on someone?) is the fact that they really should not be performing them at all. You have to go through a licensing procedure to work for TSA security for a reason – to make sure you know how to do your job properly, and that you’re not just some perv who wants an excuse to feel up women – and having airline attendants perform security duties is not only outside their job description, but also an irresponsible delegation of duties (not to mention an incredible example of “mission creep”). The TSA is responsible for security in the airport, and if they want there to be more security checks, they need to hire and train more staff. If Marc needed a license just to sit and watch the TV monitors in downtown DC buildings, the TSA sure as hell better amend that rule so that a check as potentially invasive as a pat-down is only performed by an experienced, licensed professional.
The real area that needs improvement is the initial security checks. They are currently laughable, especially in the United States. I am bad about checking through my camera bag to make sure there’s nothing offensive in it before I fly, and I made it through the airports in Boston, Zurich, Houston, Chicago, and Incheon (Seoul) before I realized that there was a large Swiss Army knife and a stray, leftover round of ammunition (from one of our visits to the rifle range) in the bottom of my bag. Not only were they never picked up on the scanners, but on a few occasions I was selected for extra screening, and my bag was put into one of those explosive-sniffing machines. It never detected the round (which contained gunpowder), and my bag, which surely has GSR (gunpowder residue) all over it from me taking it to reenactments/the range never set off the machine at all. The round of ammunition was finally noticed on my final flight from Incheon (though I made it *into* the country with it in there), and I was detained for a couple minutes at security while they looked at me suspiciously (and rightfully so – it was a 7.62×39 Soviet round, commonly used in AK-47s) before letting me continue on my journey. Frankly, I’m glad they found it (though still didn’t notice the Swiss Army knife), but successfully carrying both it and the knife around unknowingly through so many different airports was an eye-opener to me as to the ineffectiveness of the security at most airports.
If anything, these new regulations further prove many folks’ suspicions: that the TSA implements rules not because they will actually be effective at all, but because they think it will help people feel safer. Dear TSA: these new regulations accomplish neither. The best way to make passengers feel safer is to actually make them be safer.
Me in a self-portrait, staring out into the falling snow, under a security light. February 2007.
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