Some thoughts for those of us traveling during the holidays…
As I’ve been thinking about this issue and complaining/commiserating with friends, I have a few observations I’d like to share. Please tell me if you agree.
First of all, everyone agrees that there needs to be some sort of trade-off between safety and convenience/productivity. The only precaution that would eliminate terrorists use of commercial airplanes is the banning of commercial airplanes. No one would agree to that, anymore than we would tolerate a 5-MPH speed limit, which would eliminate auto fatalities but bring our economy to a halt. The real question is, how much precaution is enough? More specifically, how much security are we “buying” for ourselves in exchange for the sacrifices of privacy and liberty?
Next, let’s think back to pre-2001 air travel. There were metal detectors, baggage x-rays, etc. Flying was still pretty safe. There were isolated acts of terrorism: planes were sabotaged, and bombs and weapons were occasionally smuggled aboard. But hostages were held with weapons, usually the terrorists would take control of the plane, land it in some Middle-Eastern country, and then hold out for concessions.
But 9/11 changed the way we think about air terrorism: no longer can we simply worry about the safety of the passengers and crew, we now worry about the damage that a plane could do to those in buildings on the ground.
If we’re really concerned about commandeered planes flying into ground targets, we should take steps to make sure that planes cannot be commandeered. This could include sealing the cockpit (which I believe is standard procedure now), or creating a “destruct” sequence that could be triggered from the cockpit or from the control tower. (This may seem shocking, but if you think about it, this is exactly what the heroes of Flight 93 did: they sacrificed their own lives so that the plane would crash without killing others.) The most important thing is to signal to terrorists that they will not be able to commandeer a plane; a hostage situation will at best divert the plane to an emergency landing, or at worst, kill everyone on the plane.
Lest you think that this policy would declare open-season on airplanes for terrorists, consider that a bomb on a plane probably wouldn’t kill any more folks than a bomb in a crowded bus, train or office building. There are no full-body scans or x-ray machines protecting those areas, but we still see relatively few acts of terror in the USA.
The additional security measures recently instituted will be repealed soon, and rightfully so. My point is that there are more effective and more efficient ways of dealing with the threat of another 9/11-style attack–ways that allow us to keep our dignity and privacy. In my opinion, the TSA is partly a costly but ineffective signal to the public that the gov’t is concerned about safety, and partly an excuse to create a new bureaucracy of gov’t employees who will vote for incumbents.