Airline Security is Failing America

When I made fun of the morons in charge of our airline security for protecting us from Cat Stevens, I mentioned that the issue actually deserved more serious attention. The problem with this issue is that no candidate can really touch it. Bush can’t touch it because it’s a system that he set up, and he probably doesn’t care, because his political base flies in private jets. Kerry can’t touch it, even though the senior senator from his state has been hassled when he tries to board a plane, because the right-wing media would label him as “weak on homeland security”.

We all know the system is ridiculous. In any reasonable cost-benefit analysis, making granny take her orthopedic shoes off while allowing the cargo holds to fill up with whatever anybody wants to sneak into them is a goofy waste of time. Any reasonable person knows that me armed with nail clippers or a wine corkscrew is much less dangerous than a 12 year-old trained in Kung Fu.

I sincerely believe that our approach to airline security has many goals, but preventing violence on aircraft is near the bottom of the list. What, then, is the purpose?

First off, I think it is intended to make people think that the government is doing something. Nothing makes you feel safer than a big show of intrusive security. Somehow, having a screener open your carry-on and look at your underwear makes it seem less likely that some bad guy will smuggle a plastic gun or a ceramic knife onto the plane. If Big Brother is hassling me, the thinking goes, he’s hassling the bad guys, too. Nonsense, of course, but appearance is a comforting substitute for reality.

Secondly, airline security puts you in your place. It is a vivid assertion of the inalienable right of authority figures to be a pain in your ass. They can make you take your shoes off. They can haul you into a room and feel you up. They can take order you not to make a joke about bombs, and you’d damned well better listen, because they have the absolute right to tell you what to do. Airline security is yet another example of the Supremacy of the State – like DUI Checkpoints, it is an intentionally brazen interference with privacy, with the clear message intended to suppress silly notions that that government of the people, by the people, for the

people, has not perished from the earth.

Thirdly, airline security is a great way to deal with malcontents who think they can question authority. Cat Stevens is a peace-loving liberal, and says nice things about Islam. Can’t allow that, can we? Jan Adams and Rebecca Gordon, two peace activists who want to know why their names had turned up on a no-fly list, ought to be able to figure it out. When Mahnaz Shabbir, author of “I am an American Muslim Woman” (and speaker at my Rotary Club yesterday), learns that her 3 year-old son is on the no-fly list, maybe she should stop talking about Muslims and start thinking about how to blend in.

Fourth, and finally, airline security is a fantastically inefficient system, with tons of government money around to fund it, and nobody in the government willing to take the heat for suggesting the airline security should have limits. What better boondoggle could you ask for? Corporations are making money, and who cares if a few people miss their flights?

Leave a Reply