I Just Don’t Understand Airport Security

I’ve been traveling a lot lately.  A lot.  So – I’ve gotten to experience airport security in many different forms throughout our beautiful country. Today’s experience in Boston reinforced how silly this whole thing has become.

Amy and I are heading to Washington DC.  The line is short as this part of Logan is pretty empty today (not many US Air flights mid-afternoon on a Saturday.)  As a result, the TSA guy has come up with a few new rules and he’s repeating them as steadily as your favorite metronome.  “Put your shoes, liquids, and bags directly on the conveyer belt.  Do not put them in the plastic trays.  If you have a drink, you can you drink it on that side security but you must throw it away before you come through.  Put your id’s away.”  Over and over again.  Instead of getting through security in three minutes, it took about ten as everyone forgot to take the purses, their liquids, or their shoes out of the little plastic trays.

All I could think of was my Acela train trip from Baltimore to NY.  We bought a ticket in the train station, zero security, bought some drinks in the train station, and walked on the train.  There were more people on it than on the airplane I was on from NY to Boston on Thursday night.  Our ending point was Penn Station.  No security – go figure.

I also thought about John Corzine’s (the NJ Governor’s) horrible car crash yesterday and how easy it is to either have a random (or deliberate) car accident.

Our government is spending an incredible amount on airport security and I’ve yet to feel fundamentally more secure than I used to.  Maybe it’s just me and I’m cynical, but this pet peeve gnaws at me.

  • brad-

    you do read ‘ask the pilot’ on salon, don’t you?

    one of the very few voices of sanity and reason on the topic:


  • I’m reading “The Death of Common Sense” right now and it is explaining some of this. Rather than allowing room for good judgement society is trying to write rules for everything. We have to have a fundimental shift in thinking or this is all just going to get a lot worse. That said, I’m not sure what to do about it myself.

    I’ve packed a printout of the Bill of Rights in my carry-on a few times, but they don’t seem to get it. I originally wrote the previous sentence as “they don’t seem to get the joke” but it isn’t a joke – it’s sad really.

    I thought about a side business call “FreedomBaggie.com” which would sell regulation-sized zip-lock bags with the Bill of Rights printed on the bag, but that would violate the regulation of having clear bags.

  • Erik

    Security theater

  • I took the Acela from NYC to Philly recently myself. I also found myself thinking how easy it would be for someone to compromise that train, right in the middle (in my case, Penn Station in NYC or 30th St Station in Philly, both smack downtown) of one of our largest cities.

    I probably had that thought because of how “routine” airport security feels now.

    But, at least I didn’t have to take my shoes off and chuck my toothpaste to get on the trian.

  • rob

    Trying to prevent 21st century terrorism effetively requires a police state and very few personal liberties. Making people feel fundamentally secure is also very very hard.

    Easier to just behave in the world.

  • homer

    very typical government thinking…. be a reactionist. someone blows up a plane, add plane security. wait for someone to blow up a train. when someone blows up a train, add train security.

    luckily it doesn’t appear that too many people are trying to blow things up in the US these days.

  • Wendell Phillips made a speech in Boston, MA on January 28, 1852, wherein he quoted a founding father (he was not sure if its was Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry):

    Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty…

    There is certainly a friction in our society between the acceptable extent of vigilance that we are prepared to endure.

    Technology is playing a greater role in our vigilance – I’ve invested in a gunshot detection system that detects the location of gunshots within seconds and 30 feet, transmitting the information as a “dot on a map” to police officer laptops in the patrol car. It is taking the law enforcement world by storm. (Not to mention helping the Marines pinpoint snipers in the al-Anbar province over the past 3 months.)

  • Dick Costolo

    Somebody tries to put a bomb in their shoe? you gotta take off your shoes. Somebody tries to take a fake bottle of water on the plane? No more water through security.

    Just wait until somebody tries to put something in the lining of their underwear….you think security is a pain now?

  • Chuck

    My favorite is the fact that on Friday I couldn’t bring about 2 ounces of toothpaste on board but the only thing stopping me from causing a “safety hazard” to the entire plane once on board is one sign on the bathroom telling me not to put anything other than toilet paper in the toilet or it will cause a safety hazard.

  • Anyone else been to the Status of Liberty lately?

  • Bruce Schneier expounds at length on all of this insanity. It’s gotten to the point that I’d rather poke needles in my eyes than do any sort of air travel. I even procrastinate on required travel now. How sad, all in the name of a fear they cannot touch or identify. On the bright side, perhaps this is a boon for our rail industry 😉

  • Having gone through a TSA “SSSS” pat-down the other day and discovered on repacking my bag I had a bottle of water in there I’m over the whole security by theatre thing.
    My brother (who works in environmental management – landscaping) went through security recently with a ceramic blade he’d forgotten in a pocket of his backpack.
    I flew out of Heathrow last week and it’s even more stupid there
    Common sense has deserted us, and the terrorists are winning… when you’re stuck in a queue for airport security who do you curse? A few extremists or the government that supports the knee-jerk reaction?
    Of course when the next attrocity happens the press will cry foul that they did’t do enough to protect us but these guys shouldn’t seek election to be loved!
    All this effort and expense could (should) be applied to things that actually matter, but this is an easy way to look good.
    I read somewhere that 3000 people died in 9/11, and 3000 people die every day of starvation – yet we went to war (apparently) to hunt down those responsible for the former, but don’t do a thing about the latter.
    …. and it’s just going to get worse until folks stop travelling or the Federal authorities realise they need to think about the problem rather than bluster their way around….

  • Vic Stapel

    I thought I am short tempered and it only happens to me and that only I thing the secourity if fraud.
    I just came across your AIRPORT SECURITY BLOG.
    I am European and flew a few weeks ago from Canada to South Africa. I am always amazed HOW RUDE!COLD! and UNFRIENDLY! most(I say MOST) US border and custom officials are. They make sure to have a tone that makes one never want to come back to USA again if one not needed to for business or holdiay.
    I love USA and it places and people. But these officials most fat and overweight (I say most) seem to be trained to be ego trippers and have a pertinence that comes across in the UTMOST UNPLEASANT WAY. I am well spoken and do not should so why do I need to be asked the usual questions from immigration on a tone I would not talk to my dogs.
    I walked in Vancouver airport and the sign said “USA”. As one passes the door one find himself 10m from USA border passport control.Surprise, in the middle of Vancouver,20 m down the same hall I am advice that my 2 home-made Chicken Bagels are NOT allowed in the transit lounge. MEAT import is illegal into USA as well as my little sealed brand new water bottle were thrown away (as NO liquid on the airplane is allowed). I said this is my breakfast its 2 hours to the flight. I drink and eat it before takeoff. I was told ON THAT TONE I can buy some inside.
    NICE BUSINESS co operation with all the food stalls inside any % to customs? Profits must be booming and the water bottles thrown away I wonder where they go (as mine was not the only one). Talk about saving water and recycling.
    Anyway beside that once I boarded the plane USA how can you guarantee me my safety, when I see every second person bringing up to 1/2 gallon soft drinks water bottles, Star bucks cups, purchased in the transit lounge.
    Who can guarantee that no one had smuggled something into the goods sold there and than TAKEN ON BOARD ??
    Beacuse United barely offers anything on a flight. Than in Washington DC after missing our flight and 24hrs in a Hotel ( I wear same clothes always when I travel ) I arrive at the scanner. Take out the LAP take off the shoes etc etc ( and yes the man was screaming the tune as you explained) after passing JHB BKK HKG YVC with the EXACT same travel clothes shoes watch with never setting off BEEP BEEP the alarm in WASHINGTON went off 3x in row.
    I was literally pushed in a paranoia way by a female guard into a 3 sided GLASS BOX in front of all passengers passing standing there like a lame duck for 5 min.
    Than finally someone special came with a VOICE and TONE that was so INTIMIDATING right away.
    NO hello, please would you, SIMPLY with PRISON WARD tone made me step forward raise my arms horizontally. I was holding my ticket and passport He insisted on me holding my hand OPEN, but rebuffed when I wanted to lay them down etc ..so how to hold them open. This went on for another 5min in front of every one he passed every sqaure inch.
    I was wearing very classic black slacks and one long sleeve T shirt, so anything would show.
    He went on and on insisting me keeping my arms horizontally out.
    Meanwhile he took my passport away and had it checked again somewhere else BEFORE I reached the passport control area. Finally he made me open my front of pants ( all in front of passengers passing by) and insisted in seeing something metal inside) that was the little safety hook inside most tailor made slacks. Than back trough the detector again with my watch my stainless steel neck chain and bracelet and the beep went off again.
    Now it was OK it was the safety hook in my pants and he simply walked away saying HAVE A NICE FLIGHT.
    I felt so violated like a mugging.
    Its not the fact to be checked I am FOR SECURITY but HOW and on WHAT VOICE TONE ARROGANCE as IF we were guilty BEFORE checked.
    At passport control I realized he had not returned my passport as at all times while he was checking me. I had to take visual care of that not some other person takes my LAPTOP or bag that were lying there helplessly since the beginning of the ordeal for 20 min 100% unsecured at the end of the scanner so I packed in ahurry after he was finished.
    It took me than 20 min to wait for the scanner people to find that same STUPID man asking whatwas his name HOW DO I RECALL .
    He had MY PASSPORT in HIS SHIRT POCKET.. OUTRAGEOUS .. if i had more time and nerves I would have made an official complaint.
    But whats the point ON MY FLIGHT again every one ceom in with THE DRINKS by the GALLONS when there is such a fuss that not more than more than 3oz of perfume and liquid etc is allowed in the cabin.

    3 years ago I flew from LA to Johannesburg via ATLANTA. I took a local flight in LA no one looked at my passport in Atlanta I walked into the SAA airplane NO ONE CHECKED my passport I could have been ANYONE with BAD credentials NO ONE WOULD HAVE KNOWN.

    SO MUCH for MY SECURITY when I FLY via or in USA!

  • BC

    So if you are carrying a potentially dangerous liquid (your bottle of water); they would rather you leave it at the airport (with 10’s of thousands of people) rather than take it on the plane (with a few hundred). Makes sense… NOT!

    A classic example of focused spending; spending more to prevent a specific problem than the problem is worth in aggregate.

  • Mindraker

    Hey, those from abroad traveling in the USA, I feel your pain. It's crazy even flying in the USA as an American. God only knows what it's like being a foreigner in the USA. I sympathize all the way.