Reader's Replies

Here's your chance to join the fray and be heard.  You can respond to my columns and share your own opinions and insight.

  • Fred from IL has some suggestions on how to painlessly improve security.
  • Dmitry, also from IL, suggests having signs in the front of airports 'Your Constitutional Rights End Here'.
  • Paul from somewhere on the Internet points out another massive loophole.
  • A different Paul points out that even if we make airports/airplanes 200% secure, there are still trains, boats, bridges, and many other things completely at risk.
  • Lynne from Reno gives a security horror story.
  • Barry from somewhere on the internet says that vigilance has been replaced with hysteria.
  • George from NJ reports on another unfortunate incident at airport security.
  • William from somewhere on the internet has a free market solution.
  • Jimm from Baltimore points out a lunacy inherent in selecting pax traveling on one way tickets for further screening, and makes a series of other points too.
  • Will from Raleigh-Durham discovers that 'random' searches are actually not at all random.  I wonder if terrorists will make a similar discovery?

Reader's Replies :  Other readers share their opinions and experiences.  You can too.  If you'd like to add your own commentary, please send me a note.




Fred from Downers Grove, IL, writes : I agree. I heard Don Carty (of AA) say several times that the security system is silly, particularly when security people x-ray the shoes of little old ladies.  His suggestion is to tie in the reservations system to a database of people that states, the FBI, the CIA, Interpol, and allied intelligence agencies believe are threats. Then, they can be thoroughly questioned and screened at check-in. He also wants ID cards issued to travelers who pass an FBI background check, so that they can go through less stringent screening.

I also heard comments from a former head of El Al security. He said that the overkill at checkpoints only discourages air travel. He also said that El Al security, as a whole, won't work in the US, because the US system is too big. His solution, until technology catches up, is intense questioning while waiting to check-in, since there are always lines at U.S. airports.  People should be questioned, such as

  • Where are you going?
  • Why?
  • If for business, where is your client's office?
  • If to see grandchildren, how many and what are their names and ages?
  • If for a wedding, what are the names of the bride and groom, what is the name of the name of the church, and where is the reception?
  • If your secretary made the reservation, what is her name and how long has she worked for you.
  • Did you pay with a personal charge card or a corporate card?

You get the picture. The passenger who is not a threat should have all of the answers. The passenger who is a threat should get tripped up.

As for the issue of connecting flights, part of the problem is that airlines will schedule tight connections. I flew from Las Vegas to O'Hare via LAX. American gave me a 35-minute connection, which involved walking from Terminal 3 to Terminal 4. If the O'Hare departure hadn't been delayed 20 minutes, I would have boarded with less than 10 minutes to spare, and my bag may have been pulled, only to be reloaded.

Until the baggage is fully screened, do we need to add connection time? I don't know. But here's my question. What happens if I make the connection, but the bag doesn't? That happened to me flying from O'Hare to Halifax, Nova Scotia via Boston. I made the BEX flight, but either American didn't get the bag transferred in time, or BEX didn't get it out to the aircraft. Either way, what happens to the bag? Technically, it can't go without me. But it can't go with me, either.

I could see a terrorist purposely schedule a tight connection, see if the bag makes the connection. If it didn't, then he could try the connection again with a bomb in the checked bag.

Dmitry from Chicago writes :  Personally, I now avoid air travel as much as possible. Not because I am afraid of a hijacking, but because I do not wish to deal with the glorified bouncers that call themselves "airport security". Between my car and Amtrak I can get to any point in the continental U.S. in no more than two days (I live in Chicago). On the balance of time, money, and aggravation, air travel is the least desirable option.

Just a few more points. For the last several months I have collected a dozen or so horror stories about airport security, some of which actually pre-date 9-11. I will be glad to send you some of them, if you like. Just to summarize, you are lucky if shoes is all you have to take off, if you catch my drift... Not only that, you can be arrested and kicked off the flight for even a whimper of a complaint. They may as well put up a sign at the entrance to any airport: "Your constitutional rights end here".

Another point: What if the 9-11 hijackers had used belts to strangle the pilots instead of cutting their throats? What would the knee-jerk reaction be then? How about if they had been martial arts experts and had used their hands?

My opinion is that FAA should completely take over airport security. Hopefully, this will mean a uniform standard and, more importantly, a venue to resolve complaints, perhaps something similar to what the U.S. Customs was forced to implement after some lawsuits and Congressional investigation of several horror stories.

Paul from somewhere in Internet land writes :  There is one other major flaw of the bag matching. On Southwest, many of the flights are multiple stops on the same flight.  A person boards the plane with his carry on bag, gets off at the first stop, but leaves his bag on the plane.  He doesn't even need to be ticketed to the final destination. There is no checking that the carry on bags on the plane match the passengers who stay on the plane.

David replies :  At least in theory (if not reliably in practice) carry on luggage has all been carefully Xrayed and screened.  However, I'm the first to acknowledge that any terrorist with only a minor amount of training could disguise a bomb inside a computer case that would look normal to an Xray machine but which would be powerful to take down a plane.  Definitely a loophole.

A different Paul from somewhere on the Internet writes :  On your topic of illogic in security procedures, I agree wholeheartedly.  Additionally:

1.  I do not believe that there are real present threats still out there. If there were, we would have heard from them by now. Would there not have been more attacks during the “war” we are conducting in Afghanistan? I put that in quotes, because it is really more of a pursuit and a police action. Using the word “war,” however, keeps us all in line as supporters of the perception that there is a dire emergency.

2.   The policy of spending endlessly and instituting equally endless and point security measures at airports is plain nonsense. There are tens of thousands of miles of train track, of road, thousands of tunnels and bridges, where no amount of security would prevent a planted charge or a parked explosive packed vehicle from doing damage. My point is that even if airport security were effective, WE are no more and less safe as a nation and as individuals now than on September 10.

3.  It is clear to me that we are being fleeced – yet again – by the security and arms industries and by the military. Billions and billions will be spent in response to an attack by less than 20 people armed with box cutters. A shocked and grieving nation is being taken for a huge ride.

I am offended as a 60,000 mile a year flyer who is subjected to the indignities of a burgeoning police state and as a tax payer watching all our surpluses turn into deficits.

Lynne from Reno writes :  Your article was particularly relevant after an incident I witnessed at Oakland Airport yesterday.  Lines at security were moving fairly quickly (if you can call an 8-10 minute wait 'quickly') until the screening personnel in their infinite wisdom pulled a lady out of line for additional screening.

The lady selected was probably 75 years old and totally blind.   The ineptitude of the screening personnel was evident as the lady was being jostled to and fro, wanded, patted, etc.  She appeared to be somewhat frightened and disoriented.  Their thorough screening of this lady took about 10 minutes, backed up the entire security line and caused many looks of bewilderment among those waiting in line.

As a frequent flyer I’m not sure “who” current security measures are intended to reassure, but they only cause me to consider alternate means of travel.

Barry from somewhere on the internet writes :  There continue to be hysterical responses to September 11. Politicians because they want to appear to be taking action to prevent another September 11 have been taking action based on hysteria. Securing the cockpit door is an example of a hysterical response.

The cockpit door was designed to be kicked out. Installing a steel bar across the door still allows the top or bottom to kicked out. This was demonstrated on a recent United flight to South America.

Vigilance has been converted to hysteria. The continuing call for vigilance is by politicians practicing SYA - SAVE YOUR ASS. If there is another September 11, politicians will claim they were being watchful.

"Airport Security" is being brought to us by a government unable to prevent September 11. The typical airline passenger has a better chance of winning the California Lottery, without buying a Lotto ticket, than ever being involved with a terrorist. Common sense was a casualty of September 11, too.

David replies :  I agree with much of what you say, but I think that securing cockpit doors is an excellent idea.  Apparently just putting a bar across the door is an imperfect implementation of this idea, however!  :)

George from Towaco, NJ, writes :  The traveling public will tolerate a lot for the sake of security but may soon balk when these security checks become ridiculous. My wife and I watched an (unfortunate) middle aged lady, selected at random from a group of waiting passengers at a gate location at RDU, receive a pat down search from a female equipped not with a wand by with a pair of rubber gloves. The pat down was done in full view of all waiting passengers. I'm sure the other passengers, forced to watch, were as embarrassed as the 'suspect' herself. Don't you think the so called security individual could have used a private and secure area for that type of search?

William from somewhere on the internet writes :  Why not let the airlines decide the level of security they want to impose? The more security, the higher the cost of the ticket. The ticket buying passenger can then decide which airline to fly based on price and destination. Would that not be a novel idea? Caveat emptor!

Jimm from Baltimore writes :  Here are some other observations.

Unaccountable Design
Let's remember that many of the pre 9-11 security measures were instituted after the TWA 800 crash. And that turned out not to be a terrorist plot at all !

Checked Bags
Another loop hole, is with the hand checking of checked bags at the ticket counter. I saw this at Spokane airport (Horizon counter) just last week. Suppose I have two checked bags (one with a bomb) and I am concerned about getting picked for hand search. So I keep my checked bags off the scale until I am told I am going to have to be hand checked or not. The ticket agent doesn't place the printed bag tag on the bag until after the hand search (to prevent mistakes).

So if I get selected I switch the bomb bag with my accomplice (perhaps on the same flight or not). The bomb bag doesn't get checked so it can be used later. AND - If I don't get selected, then the bomb bag goes on.

One Way Tickets
An agent again told me that round trip ticketed passengers don't normally get selected for hand screening. Would I really be so dumb as to get a one-way ticket to save a couple hundred bucks and raise a red flag.

Cabin Door
The single bar on the door did apparently slow the attacker enough that he was overpowered by the co-captain. Aren't we glad they didn't have a gun. The axe seems to have made a dent in the situation.

And now we (the flying public) are paying $$$ directly for this poor implemented security !

One other thing - Is there any chance that the 9-11 plane that crashed in PA on the way to DC crashed due to cell phone usage by passengers ? And not due to the passengers overpowering the terrorists.

Will from Raleigh Durham writes :  I have so many stupid stories about security that I have no time to communicate them to people. For instance:

Yesterday (Monday) I was first in line at RDU for my first class seat on a Delta flight to CVG at 0620. The gate agent, who knows me well, said to me: "Will, we always search the first person in line, so go over there and get searched." I looked at her in astonishment and said that was the dumbest, most PREDICTABLE thing I'd ever heard. Any would-be mischief-maker, I pointed out, could easily avoid being searched by making certain never to be first in line to board at Delta. No matter - I was searched.

But wait, this story gets even better: I had already been selected for a random search at the security point, and the SAME GUY who'd searched my bags the first time was at the gate now to search people for this particular flight. When he saw it was me, and remembered going through my stuff just a half hour earlier, he looked at me with a sigh, shook his head, and searched my bags again anyway. He quietly told me he'd lose his job if he didn't, even though it was incredibly stupid and a waste of our time to do so. We both smiled at being forced actors in the same bad play.

Your rants, my rants, Joe Brancatelli's, and everyone else's aren't often enough or loud enough to overcome the unmitigated lunacy and hypocrisy of the current situation. The Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice In Wonderland was a somber academic symposium by comparison.

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Copyright 2001 by David M Rowell.