Wednesday, November 17, 2010


This whole air travel flack has me really wound up. Truth be told, I haven’t flown in several years – I think the last time was in 2006 – but I used to fly fairly regularly, first because I was living in Memphis and then because of work. Frankly, I’ve always felt like the post 9/11 security was nothing more than an inconvenient joke. For one thing, a few months after 9/11 I flew home for Thanksgiving with a huge pair of sewing shears in my carry-on luggage – I didn’t know they were there, and they were never found by security. But they could have done some damage in the wrong hands. And yet: the last time I flew I had a set of size-1 bamboo double-pointed needles (basically a couple of long tooth picks!) taken away from me on my return trip, despite the fact that I was allowed to fly with them just a few days prior, and despite the fact that if you tried to poke someone with them they would most likely have snapped in two.

I’ve also had some less-than-positive interactions with TSA agents. Once at Logan, changing planes to fly to Portland, I was confused about why I had to go through another security screening; I was genuinely unsure if I was in the right place, but the agent threatened to arrest me when I asked him why I had to be rescreened (he didn’t like my “tone”, whatever that meant). Another agent once dumped my prescription medication (in its original bottle, with my name and prescription info on it) out on a dirty table to make sure there weren’t any “illicit” drugs in there, spilling some onto the floor. I can understand maybe opening the bottle, but at least have some reasonably clean place if you are going to dump it out! (She picked them all up and put them back in the bottle “because she had to”; I threw them out and got a replacement from the pharmacy, which incidentally was a pain and required authorization from my doctor in order for the insurance to pay for it again. And I'm aware that I was lucky to have insurance!)

But mainly I’m wound up because I’ve had exactly two parking tickets in my lifetime and that is the extent of my “criminal” activity, but I’m supposed to feel safe because they are making ME take my shoes off?

The truth is, we’re spending millions if not billions of dollars to screen thousands of innocent people on a daily basis. And we are (apparently) not even marginally safer than we were pre -9/11. And now, we’re putting innocent people through machines that may or may not be safe, and we’re letting the TSA literally stick their hands down the pants of innocent people in front of their children (I’m not making this up; my nieces and nephew watched as a TSA agent did this to their father on a recent trip). We’re forcing the pilots who fly the planes through the same idiotic procedures, despite the fact that if a pilot wanted to destroy an aircraft, all he/she would have to do is, y’know, crash the plane (these people need to watch The Event!).

This is supposedly all legitimate because when you buy your airline ticket you are presumed to give up certain rights. First, I just bought a plane ticket for travel and at no time was I ever told, “by purchasing this ticket you give up your right to unreasonable search and seizure”. Second of all, really??? To me, the most reasonable comparison is to road blocks set up for drunk drivers. Drunk driving is a serious threat to the public good; I can tell you right now that infinitely more people die from drunk drivers each year than are affected by terrorists blowing up airplanes. So fine, we accept that it is legal for the police to conduct random checkpoints. You go through the checkpoint, you give the cop your license, and unless s/he has reason to believe you have been drinking, you get waived through. But each driver is NOT routinely taken out of their vehicle and frisked, or forced to take a breathalyzer, or strip searched. Can you imagine???

But we let the TSA railroad us into believing we’re safer because every day they frisk and/or radiate thousands of innocent people, who in any other circumstance a police officer would have absolutely NO just cause to search? Honestly, these shenanigans make me feel even LESS safe, because it tells me they honestly have no clue how to stop the real terrorists. And THAT is what really terrifies me.

What if it was my family that got blown up? I think about that question a lot, and let me be clear: I'm not at all advocating for ditching passenger screening entirely. The problem is, from what I can tell these new procedures may still enable a real terrorist to make it through. I heard on a news program last night that during a training exercise, TSA agents confiscated a bottle of water, but missed a bomb right beneath it. That hardly gives me faith in the system. But bigger (philosophical) picture here: one of the fundamental tenants of American jurisprudence is that it is better to let a guilty man go free than to persecute an innocent man. But that’s kind of what these regulations do. And why is that ok?

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