Saturday, August 12, 2006

Airport Security

The recently foiled terror plot apparently instructs the paranoid that anything can be a bomb. Of course we already knew this, but it seemed like a good time to pile on some more unnecessary airport security procedures.

Americans can now no longer carry-on any liquids, which means that toiletries such as toothpaste, contact lens solution, and makeup must go into checked baggage. This isn't that big a deal for vacationers, who lug big suitcases that they have to check anyway, but student and business travelers often pack lite, into a carry-on bag.

The benefits of carrying your luggage on are numerous. First, there's no risk of the airline losing your stuff. Second, you don't have to wait in line to check your bag at the airport; you can print your boarding pass at home and go straight to the security line.

Waiting in the baggage check line sucks. I usually fly an airline that is currently financially distressed. That means that they're cutting personnel, and that means fewer people handling the baggage check. Since the security line is run by the government, they can usually staff it sufficiently. At LaGuardia, on the airline I use, a ten-minute security line usually corresponds to a half-hour to 45-minute wait to check a bag. Plus, you have to wait for them to unload on the other end.

But it could be worse; in Britain, all carry-on luggage is banned. That means international travelers have to suffer through transatlantic flights with not even the comforts of an iPod a Game Boy, or even a magazine, and laptop computers and briefcases that, in the case of business travelers, could contain sensitive information or documents, must be entrusted to the airlines, and their employees, who, if you peek through the window, you might see kicking your bags around the tarmac like soccer balls.

This can't be good for the already-distressed airlines. The change in security policy has turned first-class service from a white-glove treatment to a rubber-glove treatment, and many of the well-heeled passengers who the airlines relied upon to buy high price tickets are now paying high premiums to not have to put up with this shit.

And does it make us any safer? Well, I live in New York City. I've seen the hole that terrorism ripped into downtown Manhattan.

But at the same time, I think that adding two hours to every trip home to visit my family, to prevent the highly unlikely possibility of someone disguising nitroglycerine as contact lens solution and then assembling an explosive on the airplane is pretty fucking stupid, when any jackass can carry a pipe bomb onto the subway in a backpack. Or, hell, if a guy can hide nitroglycerine in a toothpaste tube, he can get it onto the plane by strapping it to his body, if they ban it in carry-ons.

There's a bunch of shit out there that can kill me, and this is creating a significant inconvenience in exchange for creating no significant increase in security. Given the choice, I'll risk the perils that might be concealed within the toothpaste tubes of my fellow passengers to preserve the convenience of flying unmolested. I take bigger risks than that every single time I walk out of my home.

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