Security theatre strikes again

With the exception of two brief trips this past year, I’ve not been overseas since 2004. (2006 if you count literally overseas and include, er, Belfast). It’s not that I dislike going places – I enjoy it a lot – it’s just that I loathe flying. Being in the air is lovely; getting there is not.

I mean, flying as I remember it in the past isn’t much fun. I’m 6’2″, tall enough that short legroom is more of an annoyance than usual, and there’s always a lot of stress around airports – if you miss a connection, you have a lot less leeway for “oh, I’ll get on the next one” than you do with trains. You get stale food and lukewarm coffee, and you spend a lot of time in terminals at the mercy of overpriced concessions selling… well, stale food and lukewarm coffee.

But flying these days, of course, it’s all a bit more grim. Bags checked, shoes off, shoes on, bags checked again, seemingly random restrictions on what that bag can contain, etc etc, all of which largely spurious and done for the sake of looking secure rather than providing any significant benefit.

Not the sort of thing to make you look forward to the experience, all in all; I manage the rest of my life quite well without being treated like a criminal, and I don’t particularly want to pay for the privilege if I can avoid it. So, when I read today:

Among other steps being imposed, passengers on international flights coming to the United States will apparently have to remain in their seats for the last hour of a flight without any personal items on their laps. … In effect, the restrictions mean that passengers on flights of 90 minutes or less would most likely not be able to leave their seats at all, since airlines do not allow passengers to walk around the cabin while a plane is climbing to its cruising altitude.
[New York Times]

…yeah. Any remaining desire I had to fly, I can feel just flowing out of me.

I mean, even were it a meaningful security step it would make it unpleasant enough to be a deterrent; as it is, the new system… wouldn’t even have prevented yesterday’s incident.

Mr Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom for about 20 minutes before the incident, court documents say.
When he got back to his seat, he said he had an upset stomach and he pulled a blanket over himself, the affidavit continues.
“Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odour, and some observed Abdulmutallab’s pants, leg and the wall of the airplane on fire,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
[BBC News]

Imagine this rule was in place. What’d you have done, wanting to get around it? You’d have gone to the bathroom earlier, secreted the stuff about your person, and sat down. Wear a long loose shirt, say; you can manipulate stuff inside that easily enough, and I don’t see people patrolling the aisles, nursery-teacher style, to check your hands are neatly folded in your laps. Not exactly rocket science, really.

We have a security system, one that works well; people being alert and reacting when something goes wrong. You couldn’t manage a September 11th style hijacking any more, not because you’re not allowed knives on board but because people won’t be deterred by knives any more. And… that’s what happened here.

Bombs, they’re another kettle of fish. In the long run, you can’t stop people detonating them once they have them – not without tranquilising everyone and sealing them in glass boxes – because it’s an arms race, and there will always be a new method. You have to stop them being there to detonate, and normal security systems are – mostly – good at that. When they’re not, when people can still turn up carrying explosives, you need to think about that problem, not about what people are and aren’t allowed to do with their hands.

3 thoughts on “Security theatre strikes again”

  1. I can’t imagine they could keep that up as a restriction – for a start small children are not going to keep quiet for an hour without something to fiddle with, or eat. Hell, I’m not going to keep quiet for an hour without something to fiddle with or read. Not to mention lack of toilet use on 90 minute fights for pregnant women, young children and disabled passagers is just going to mean smelly wet flights. Also problems with timed medication taking. And the rush queue to the toilets on long flights when everyone realises the last chance for peeing comes up.
    And would personal items include laptops? Because there goes all of business class

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