August 23, 2006

Airport Security

So I flew to Chicago today. I got to the airport ridiculously early, just in case someone decided to smuggle some Old Spice roll-on on the plane and they had to shut the place down.

As it turns out, the check-in line and security line were... the same as they've been for the past three years. Security was a little slower, but not much. (Instead of 18 minutes, I had to wait 20 with the same length line.) It's a pain in the ass to have to carry a larger bag and check it for such a short trip--I wasted about 30 minutes waiting for my bag in Chicago--but all in all, the process went smoothly.

Which begs the question: What are they really doing there? Does the x-ray machine pick up the presence of liquids, or does it just see bottle-shaped items? I understand that some bags are hand-searched. Three guys with white shirts and blue latex gloves stood by the gate as we all borded, "randomly" searching carryon bags. I never saw them inspect a single one.

I have yet to hear anyone say that banning carryon liquids and gels actually makes flying safer. In all the flights I've taken, and all the flights everyone I know has ever taken, there has not been a single attempt at hijacking, blowing up, poisoning, or aspifying the flight. Statistically, that's a very low percentage of flights targeted (it approaches zero pretty closely, for those still trying to do the math).

Yes, but remember Lockerbie. Remember 9/11. "Never again." That is, in a word, bullshit. I don't have the stats (who does?), but I would bet money that mechanical or pilot failure is responsible for more airplane deaths than terrorism... even before 9/11. Should we be vigilant in security? Sure, within reason. The steps taken recently have stepped outside the realm of reason and into the realm of action motivated by pure fear. And guess what? That means the terrorists have already won! Isn't that ironic? Terrorism's goal is not the deaths of a few hundred people or even a few thousand; it's to make people live in fear. That's why it's called terrorism. (The linguists among you may have picked up on that already.)

I'll tell you what we need. We need insurance companies to make the rules for airport security. Talk about a group who understands risk management. Airport security should not be an exercise in eradicating every possibility of risk. Somehow, fear and paranoia have turned it into that. Instead, it should be an exercise in managing risk against convenience and economics. It has become run by politics and political correctness when what is really needed is good ole Republican heartless analysis and cold calculation. Get the actuaries in and let them declare how much time and money should be spent on bag and passenger screening, how many restrictions should be placed on passengers on various flights (face it, Duluth to Fargo is not going to be a highly targeted route), and what the real risk levels are. Hell, post the risk values of each flight just like airlines now post the on-time percentage of each flight. Just like McDonald's has to post nutrition information of their foods. Let the consumers understand the risks they're taking when they get on the plane. How likely is it to crash due to faulty manufacturing? How likely due to drunk pilots? How likely due to aging and cracks in the fuselage? How likely due to terrorist activity?

Post all that information, then stand back and let the market sort it out. I bet the airlines already have all this information.

The way it's done today is stupidity at its most elegant.

Did you know that you're statistically more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport than you are in a terrorist-related flight incident?

I heard someone in line today saying they thought the "no liquids" rule was simply a way of making people buy more $3 and $4 drinks on the airplane. The more I think about it, the more I bet they're right.

1 comment:

Joe said...

We should be learning from the Israelis and El-Al... they really know what its all about and you dont have to smell everyone's feet at their airport. Read about it in