Is this so called heighted security?
August 29, 2002 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Is this so called heighted security? Why are we permitting people to bring on carry on luggage at all? If the airlines are unwilling to put a skymarshal on every flight then they need to arm the pilots. We really need to take much stronger steps in this area than the feeble attempts taken thus far.
posted by Wong Fei-hung (61 comments total)
damn - spelling - argggh!
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 6:29 AM on August 29, 2002

At least they weren't promoted...
posted by websavvy at 6:30 AM on August 29, 2002

Arm the pilots? Yeah i'd really like to be on a plane when an untrained shooter puts a bullet through the airframe. I've got a better idea. Why not just reinforce the door to the cockpit, and keep it locked? Duh! :)
posted by derbs at 6:35 AM on August 29, 2002

I used to own a .357 magnum and they are not small weapons. What really pisses me off, though, is that because of the 2-inch steel shanks in the heels of my shoes I get stopped and searched every effing time.

I could get behind a no-carry-on policy. There's always some dickhead whose got a couple of those big square duffels he wants to stick in the overhead.
posted by UncleFes at 6:36 AM on August 29, 2002

Why are we permitting people to bring on carry on luggage at all?

Or luggage in the hold, which could be made out of semtex. Or clothes with secret compartments sewed into their sleeves to hide disassembled .357 magnums. Or shoes with spring-release blades in their heels. Or hollowed-out false teeth containing cyanide capsules. Or wigs with linings made out of kevlar that slices through flesh when hurled frisbee-like across the cabin! Or, or...

Screw it. Let's just scrap every flight and make everyone travel by Greyhound in the nude.
posted by rory at 6:52 AM on August 29, 2002

make everyone travel by Greyhound in the nude

Finally, an idea that makes sense!
posted by UncleFes at 6:54 AM on August 29, 2002

UncleFes: Take your shoes off and send them through x-ray. I hate taking my shoes off and walking in my socks, but it saves a lot of time.
posted by drobot at 7:05 AM on August 29, 2002


I understand that a determined person will be able to get "something" onto the plane. But when stupid people can get a .357 magnum onto a plane then there is a problem.

No carry on's would speed up the lines at the metal detectors. Beyond medication or products necessary for taking care of babies or young children, identification, and your airline tickets, what do you really need to bring into the passenger compartment?
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 7:12 AM on August 29, 2002

And this, sir, is why I still do not feel safe flying.
posted by internook at 7:13 AM on August 29, 2002

Uncle Fes: What are the 2 inch steel shanks in your shoes for?

Kind of off topic: We see US airlines taking a bath after last year, some closing up, many near bankrupt. Why don't we hear of any foreign airlines have the same trouble? Are they not having the same trouble? It seems to me that they aren't, at least not to the same degree as the US carriers.
Which leads to me next question. What are they doing, that US carriers obviously are not doing?

As for nude greyhound trips, that would make for some scary travel I think.

As for the Fed Air Marshal program. It seems to have dropped out of site. They aren't taking anymore applications, they received quite a lot, but, I have heard nothing in the way of any expansion of the program, or of any additional hiring.

Missing a .357 handgun is pretty bad, as stated, it is not a small weapon.

Sorry for the long post, but would like some feedback regarding air carriers overseas, if you know.
posted by a3matrix at 7:13 AM on August 29, 2002

Something I must have missed in all the news coverage of this event: why? What was she doing with a gun in her luggage in the first place? Was it for protection, and she just forgot about it? Was she testing the security screeners?
posted by drinkcoffee at 7:17 AM on August 29, 2002

...what do you really need to bring into the passenger compartment?

I need my computer. Or something. I know the one thing I don't want to do is be bored out of my mind for 5 hours with nothing to do while I sit strapped in my chair in a giant hollowed out torpedo travelling through the sky.

Because some idiot carries a gun in their bag, I should lose 5 hours of productive time by having to check my laptop? Or at the very least my PDA? Maybe I could just read the inflight magazine? And when I arrive at my destination on the west coast, my luggage will be landing somewhere in Florida, where it will be miscounted, lost, found, and then accused of being a terrorist for looking like luggage.
posted by benjh at 7:19 AM on August 29, 2002

Surely the problem here has something to do with the type of people hired to do the security, and the fact that the US hasn't had anything like the european experience of terrorism over the last thirty years (I'm assuming that the woman who took the gun on board was simply a little nuts, rather than planning anything)?

Flying around the states in November last year I was really shocked by the mixture of amateurishness and officiousness at airport security. Things seemed to have levelled out a lot this summer, when I changed planes a few times on the way to California. But there was nothing that felt as professional as the security at Belfast airport in June this summer, when as well as the usual body searches, there was a check on the suitcase being wheeled by a 12-year-old girl.

There was nothing kidnappy in our baggage then, but it is hard for people who grew used to air travel before Sept 11 to adjust to the modern way.

I flew my 86-year-old mother, my wife, and two 12-year-old girls from Stansted, outside London, to Ancona in Italy last week. Between them, the females of the party had five pairs of scissors with them -- one confiscated, three caught and put in hold luggage, and one pair of paper-cutting scissors allowed. My wife lost her Screwpull corkscrew (one without a knife) as well. And this was despite preflight checks when I went through my mother's handbag. What's this? I asked. "Oh, it's my Stanley knife. I use it for peeling apples. Do you mean they'll make a fuss about that? How silly!"

Curious how we still say "Stanley knife" and not "Box Cutter" in England.
posted by alloneword at 7:20 AM on August 29, 2002


Why wouldn't the pilots be trained to handle hand guns in the appropriate manner? What if the guns were loaded with plastic bullets? Would plastic bullets go through the airframe?

Here is an interesting article about how pilots should be armed, type of gun, ammo etc.
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 7:25 AM on August 29, 2002

Beyond medication or products necessary for taking care of babies or young children, identification, and your airline tickets, what do you really need to bring into the passenger compartment?

Beyond those: My camera. A book to read (or two or three, if flying long-haul). A bunch of exposed rolls of film, if I'm on a return flight. Disks with essential data, if I'm on business; and possibly some essential business papers as well, in two-inch-thick wodges of A4. No laptop in my case, but others would have them. My diary, and a pen. Basically, anything I would not be willing to lose when my baggage decides to light out for Jamaica without me.

Dunno about you, but I'd rather not have to carry that in a big pile in my hands.

Yes, this was a regrettable oversight. The supervisor responsible was fired. The woman who carried the gun was arrested. Do you seriously want to drive the entire airline industry into the ground to reduce the risk of this happening from .000001% to .0000001%?
posted by rory at 7:33 AM on August 29, 2002

I was about to post in support of the guns in cockpits idea, Wong, but that link does a fabulous job on its own. So I'll just add this:

Before you get your panties in a knot about how you don't think we should "trust" pilots with loaded guns (I have had that discussion more than once)... think first about why you are trusting them with the lives of hundres of people and a highly mobile flying bomb. If pilots are that untrustworthy that they can't handle a gun, I don't want them flying over my head. Personally, I think its irresponsible not to put lethal defensive force in the cockpit.
posted by jammer at 7:36 AM on August 29, 2002

Curious how we still say "Stanley knife" and not "Box Cutter" in England

British football hooligan: "Hello lads, meet Boxcutter"

No, doesn't have the same ring to it.
posted by niceness at 7:37 AM on August 29, 2002

Why don't we hear of any foreign airlines have the same trouble?

You mean like Sabena, Swissair, Ansett, Canada 3000, and almost Aer Lingus?

I guess you're not hearing about it because the US media isn't that interested.
posted by rory at 7:48 AM on August 29, 2002

How to solve security problems and make flights more efficient: Passengers arriving at the airport for a flight enter a dressing room where they don hospital gowns and diapers and swallow a mild sedative. A nurse later visits and administers a general anesthetic, inserts a catheter, and hooks up an IV drip. Soon after, the sleeping passengers are stacked into the plane as tightly as possible. The flight crew consists of the usual people in the cockpit and one nurse. After the flight, the passengers wake up to a gourmet meal and a joint (OK, maybe not a joint, otherwise no one will take this seriously).
posted by TskTsk at 7:58 AM on August 29, 2002

why not just strip everything out of the planes and replace the seats with little holding cells for all passengers, to which they would be confined for the duration of the flight? voila, no more trouble from those pesky passengers!
posted by zoopraxiscope at 8:09 AM on August 29, 2002


The airline industry needs to handle luggage better I agree. I don't fly alot, 2 to 3 times a year tops, and have not had my luggage lost yet so I don't feel your pain in this regard.

I don't believe that my security on an airplane is worth your camera, journal, 2-3 books etc. An airplane is not your car or a hotel room. Most of your stuff should be in the hold of the plane.

Bring a book and a journal, you can carry your airline tickets in either. I know some people who use their books as journals. That combined with internet access and inflight radio being built into planes these days should allow you to maintain your sanity on your flight, or so I would hope.
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 8:12 AM on August 29, 2002

Uncle Fes: What are the 2 inch steel shanks in your shoes for?

I dunno. For whatever reason, most quality dress shoes have shanks in the heels, probably for aiding in support and wear, I'd guess. Wearing them, I set off metal detectors as if I was trying to sneak a howitzer through.

A safety tip for all you golfers out there, too: a very popular type of liquid nitrate fertilizer used primarily on golf courses will set off the swab tests for explosives. It was all over my clubs after one "business" trip, and you'd have though I'd come in on PCP brandishing a freaking cavalry sabre for all the attention I got.
posted by UncleFes at 8:13 AM on August 29, 2002


You like the long lines in front of the x-ray machines that effectively are doing nothing?

Removing carry on luggage simplifies the job airline security has to perform and since they don't seem to be up to the task we've given them recently some simplification seems to be in order.

What do you suggest the airlines do?
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 8:23 AM on August 29, 2002

even w/o carry on luggage you could still make a good, solid weapon out of a soda can or credit card if you know how.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 8:26 AM on August 29, 2002


I forgot state that I agree with the cockpit door reinforcement. I just don't believe it is a complete solution to the problem.
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 8:26 AM on August 29, 2002

UncleFes - me too. I dress for travel now, no steel shoes. Still something beeps. My belt. My titanium screws in my body. My necklace. and every effing time i fly, i get frisked by someone who needs to check my underwire bra. And they missed a 357 magnum. *sigh*
Blocking the door to the cockpit does not prevent an armed passenger from killing all passengers and crew until the pilot opens the door.
posted by dabitch at 8:34 AM on August 29, 2002

ps - i travel mainly in europe. hence the frisking. every time. I'm used to it, sort all electronic devices [minidisc dictaphone etc] in small bag through ex-ray, go through the beeping frame and find the gal who shall frisk me. It's uncomfortable, never travel in a skirt for instance as when they pad your inner thigh it gets creepy. They have to check the bra too, remember how upset Diana Ross got about this? Try it when you travel as often as four times a week. I had to travel to hospital due to shingles once, and warned the friskee-gal not to touch my skin if she hadn't had chicken pox.
posted by dabitch at 8:45 AM on August 29, 2002

..or is it the measels in english?
posted by dabitch at 8:46 AM on August 29, 2002

dabitch - killing all passengers and crew is preferrable to thousands killed on the ground, although I agree that reinforced cockpit doors aren't the only solution.
posted by agregoli at 8:54 AM on August 29, 2002

Zoo - you are alot less likely to cow the passangers on a plane into submission using a soda can or a credit card (ala old Burt Reynolds movie)
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 8:55 AM on August 29, 2002

Blocking the door to the cockpit does not prevent an armed passenger from killing all passengers and crew until the pilot opens the door.
posted by dabitch at 8:34 AM PST on August 29

But post 9/11 isn't the assumption that hijackings will end in everybody's death anyway? Relative to that, hasn't this tactic lost its power?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:02 AM on August 29, 2002

aye. next thing terrorists will do is going to be different. mebbe they'll put semtex in their luggage on a train, and wait for it to stop at Grand Central... The whole door-blocking idea is useless as long as they let passengers get onboard with guns, isn't it? frisk 'em all!
posted by dabitch at 9:07 AM on August 29, 2002

I don't feel your pain in this regard.

And yet you're quite willing to suggest that millions of air-travellers should undergo extreme inconvenience to assuage your 'pain', or fear of hypothetical potential possible pain at some unspecified future point should you travel often enough to raise the cumulative odds of being in any serious risk of being on the same plane as a handgun in a handbag to something approaching the risk of being eaten by a leopard, which you don't, so you won't, but just in case anyways.

I don't believe that my security on an airplane is worth your camera, journal, 2-3 books etc. An airplane is not your car or a hotel room. Most of your stuff should be in the hold of the plane.

My camera's worth a few thousand bucks, which is a lot more than the .000001% chance that you will one day be on the same plane as some misguided woman who against extraordinary odds brought a gun on-board that was not picked up by an x-ray.

Have you been on multiple journeys involving three or four changeovers in three or four different countries over twenty-four hours or more? Had a large bag containing possessions meant to sustain you for two months get lost in the byzantine baggage-handling mazes of Heathrow? Watched handlers fling suitcases onto aircraft like they were tossing a caber in the Highland Games? Had a camera dented beyond repair because you once reluctantly had to entrust it to their tender care?

Please don't suggest that carrying particularly valuable yet benign items on my person is some sort of threat to international security just because you've read one isolated news story and translated it into an over-inflated sense of personal risk that has no relationship to any real underlying risk associated with air travel.

How about asking yourself this: why is the solution to 'woman gets onto plane with a handgun in her handbag' that everyone should get rid of their handbags rather than their handguns? Whoops, just touched on the great American taboo. But if we're talking about reducing the overall risk of having guns pointed at you...

But hey, good luck. And good luck banning people from crossing the road, too, because I hear the odds of being hit by a bus on any given crossing are microscopically but measurably greater than zero.
posted by rory at 9:11 AM on August 29, 2002

Do you seriously want to drive the entire airline industry into the ground to reduce the risk of this happening from .000001% to .0000001%?

Right on.

I live in Atlanta. I fly every couple of weeks. Hartsfield has the toughest security of all the airports I travel thru. It's now just routine to expect a search because something I have on is going to set off the metal detectors and if that doesn't happen then 75% of the time my purse will be randomly searched anyway. Funny though I've never had to take off my shoes.

It takes a lot of humans to run security for the busiest airport in the world. A lot of humans means the possibility of human error no matter how airport security is supposed to work. A whole hell of a lot of humans have to be run thru security at Hartsfield. They do a damn fine job considering a vast majority of them would rather be doing some other job if they had the education and opportunity.

dabitch is right...go ahead and lock the cockpit while some nut is waving a .357 magnum around threatening to shoot up the passengers one by one until they get what they want...pilots are human too.

Where's Clint Eastwood when you need him?
posted by oh posey at 9:14 AM on August 29, 2002

you are alot less likely to cow the passangers on a plane into submission using a soda can or a credit card

well sure. but if you're not worried about this i'm not sure why you're concerned about people bringing extra books or cameras etc on board with them.

you can never stop people bringing things on board with them that might be turned into weapons. that's why the El Al security concentrates so much on discerning the intent of passengers rather than trying to stop every little thing that may become a weapon.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 9:17 AM on August 29, 2002

TskTsk: the. . .passengers are stacked into the plane as tightly as possible.

Well, I think one part of your prediction has already come true.

Seriously, the airport screeners -- particularly in ATL, where the passenger in question boarded -- are unbelievably haphazard. I've been relieved of my pocket change (and nearly been relieved of my laptop) at Hartsfield on more than one occasion, while seeing screeners harass people who are doing their best to cooperate. I'm not saying that they aren't effective...but their attitude DOES need work.

Good article in this month's Atlantic on security. One of the interesting points it makes is that security apparatus needs to be judged not on the question "Will it fail?" but rather "HOW will it fail?" In other words, the current air security system, like all complex systems, will have its equipment and human failures. What we need to do is design a system whose inevitable failures won't catastrophically compromise security.

From the article:
...when something goes wrong with security, the system should recover well. In Seattle a single slip-up shut down the entire airport, which delayed flights across the nation. Sea-Tac, Schneier told me on the phone, had no adequate way to contain the damage from a breakdown—such as a button installed near the x-ray machines to stop the subway, so that idiots who bolt from checkpoints cannot disappear into another terminal. The shutdown would inconvenience subway riders, but not as much as being forced to go through security again after a wait of several hours. An even better idea would be to place the x-ray machines at the departure gates, as some are in Europe, in order to scan each group of passengers closely and minimize inconvenience to the whole airport if a risk is detected—or if a machine or a guard fails.
posted by Vidiot at 9:23 AM on August 29, 2002

I don't believe that my security on an airplane is worth your camera, journal, 2-3 books etc. An airplane is not your car or a hotel room. Most of your stuff should be in the hold of the plane.

Ah, so they can be stolen by the unwatched baggage personnel? (And replaced at my own expense or that ofmy homeowners insurance policy because the airport/airline will claim no liability if I cannot prove conclusively that the item was packed when I checked the bag.)

Security videotapes from no fewer than ten airports in Europe and the US was released earlier this week, showing how miscreant felons who work in the secured areas of the airports were casually going through people's luggage and removing anything that seemed to be of value. (Apparently, the security cameras that weren't being monitored, just taped, since no one intervened in any of the thefts.) In Rome, enough stolen items -- ranging from jewelry and clothing to laptops, PDAs and camera equipment -- were recovered to fill a ten foot long banquet table.

Thank you, but no thank you. If I'm flying with any costly goods, they're riding where I can put my hands on them at any time.

If the airports and the newly created security authorities made some effort to hire people with even marginal intelligence for security positions, this wouldn't be an issue. We need to face facts -- in the U.S. at least, airport security screeners have never been viewed as terribly important, even if the talk has said otherwise. Actions (or lack thereof) speak much louder than words and empty reassurances.

The job of keeping our airliners safe has been left in the hands of people who couldn't get a job that paid more than $7/hr. Even now that there is some lip service being paid to improving the situation, there is no move to give the jobs to more intelligent people or to encourage bright, alert, thinking people to apply by raising salaries accordingly. The only requirements seem to be US citizenship, a high school diploma and a clean criminal record, the same criteria for being a janitor or a crossing guard.

There are things that will get lost, but the lack of ability to grasp nuances has left us with security guards who confiscate tweezers, examine every underwire as though it's a new discovery, embarass and humiliate women who dare carry sex toys with them, hold people up long enough for theives to steal their bags on the other side of the x-ray, break open souvenir snowglobes just in case and force women to drink their own breastmilk while allowing guns and hunting knives through without blinking.

It boggles the mind that we'd discuss ways to further inconvenience and vex the paying passengers instead of working to sanitize the cesspool that is security. We just cannot stand for our lives being placed into the hands of people who are a step down from shopping mall rentacops. Tighten things up in the terminals and it won't matter what kinds of baggage people are bringing on board the planes.
posted by Dreama at 9:27 AM on August 29, 2002

It's now just routine to expect a search

Exactly. I get patted down every second flight these days - even my glasses frames set off some sensors. It's no big deal. Sometimes my carry-on bag gets searched. No big deal. I would rather they did that every single time than forgo the right to carry a bag.

I mean, come on. The screener noticed something odd on the x-ray, called over their supervisor, and the supervisor failed to do the obvious first thing of saying, 'Madam, please wait while we check your bag'. For that oversight, they were fired. End of story.
posted by rory at 9:27 AM on August 29, 2002

The luggage isn't the problem -- it's those damnable people. I say we stop letting them fly altogether!
posted by Kikkoman at 9:43 AM on August 29, 2002

Actually, the supervisor DID hand-check the bag personally...and STILL managed to miss the .357 Magnum inside. (Aren't they heavy?)
posted by Vidiot at 9:47 AM on August 29, 2002

I stand corrected. So, the supervisor failed to perform a sufficiently thorough check, and for that they were fired. Even more unusual that they missed the gun, in that case; and even less likely that exactly the same thing would happen again; and even less cause to use that as a basis for banning all carry-on baggage.
posted by rory at 9:53 AM on August 29, 2002

I say let everyone on board with guns. I'd say there would be very few successful terrorist attacks, and the NRA would enjoy it too. Fun for all.
posted by The Michael The at 9:54 AM on August 29, 2002

There's a pilot or two on every flight. And there's quite a few flight attendants on every flight too. Why is it such a big deal to get one sky marshal for every flight? It is one stinkin' person! And if it is that big of a deal to get that one extra person per flight, why not allow pilots who are interested and flight attendants who are interested to take additional training so they can serve double duty as sky marshals? There might not be a ton of people qualified to do both jobs, but I'm sure there are a few, and I'm sure they'd love the extra pay also.
posted by spilon at 10:00 AM on August 29, 2002

First off do you really think that a terrorist would be stupid enough to try the exact same thing again ?

Even with the shoddy state of security that was in place before 9/11 it posed a sufficient deterrent that the hijackers didn't even try and sneak through something that could be considered a weapon.

Why risk the success of a carefully planned operation on the offchance that a guard mightn't spot the .357 in your bag. Chances of a person getting a gun through the detectors are slim to begin with and for that same person to intend to do harm is even slimmer. Increased 'security' is just a salve to make people feel all warm and fuzzy and to appear to be doing something.

The next attack (if there even is one) will be some other utterly random act that nobody had thought of before at which point the same hooha and impotent posturings will kick into high gear again.
posted by zeoslap at 10:02 AM on August 29, 2002

Why not just reinforce the door to the cockpit, and keep it locked?

I have flown Alaska Airlines 6 times in the last 2 months, and all of the planes I was on had reinforced cockpit doors.

Even so, I agree that airline's should eliminate carry-on luggage. A book and wallet should do. and maybe a laptop. OR maybe carry-on luggage be transparent bags, so other passengers can see what you have.

Most of the really long flights (over 5 hours) have in-flight entertainment such as TV shows and movies anyway. Might not be your cup of tea, but if you can't sleep it works to keep you occupied.
posted by culberjo at 10:31 AM on August 29, 2002

Why are we permitting people to bring on carry on luggage at all?

Because not allowing carryons would be unbearably inconvenient. Air travel is already frustrating, tedious, and unpleasant, and every further notch on the ratchet of misery drives away more customers. Ban carryons, and I'll take Amtrak.

Ever been dropped in a random city, where you know nobody, with nothing but your wallet and the clothes you're wearing because your baggage is halfway across the continent? Once you've done it once you will not be so quick to suggest we get rid of carry-ons. I had it happen to me three times before I stopped checking baggage altogether. If I actually need something wherever I'm going, then I'd be silly to risk checking it, and if I can live without whatever it is, why not just leave it behind? I've had my luggage lost or misdirected three times. I am NOT going to risk my cameras or my computer in the cargo hold.

Nobody quakes with fear getting in their car, worrying that they'll be crushed by some drunk who swerves into the wrong lane, but that's a far larger risk than death by hijacking has ever been. We are never going to eliminate the possibility that somebody, somewhere will figure out how to smuggle a weapon onto a plane. Why can't we just accept that this is one of the risks of air travel and get ON with it?
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2002

grr. damned editing. sorry about the mangled paragraph there.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:47 AM on August 29, 2002

Most of the time the big reason to go the carry on route is so you don't have to wait for your luggage at the other end.
posted by zeoslap at 10:48 AM on August 29, 2002

more weapons never equals fewer acts of violence. keeping weapons off planes altogther is a good start to making planes safe
posted by Kotch at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2002

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Let's say the terrorist does get on the plane with a gun. Let's say he holds the plane hostage. Pre Sept 11, they would've listened to his demands because generally hijackers want something stupid like leave the country. Then some hijackers crashed planes into buildings.

Guess what's going to happen the next time a plane with 35 people on it gets hijacked at knifepoint... the hijacker probably won't be alive when the plane lands, or at the very least, he will have some broken limbs after everyone on the plane jumps him at once, and bashes his face open.
posted by benjh at 11:07 AM on August 29, 2002

I like the transparent bags idea; seems like it would streamline the whole process enormously. What if there were airline staff distributing the bags far in advance of the metal dectector/x-ray screens? Then the searches and x-raying could be sped up, I would think.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 11:43 AM on August 29, 2002

I fly at least weekly, sometimes several times in a week. Not nervous at all - and don't see any reason whatsoever to get rid of carry-ons (in fact, I could not imagine how I'd work in my profession if I couldn't work on planes). Trite as it sounds - if someone tells me that I need to spend the NY-to-London flight doning nothing but watching the mindless fluff Hollywood produces, I'd say the terrorists have "already won".

What I do think we need to do is be a bit more realistic about how we accomplish screening. zoopraxiscope is, I think, correct about El Al. Israeli security is close to the best in the world. You hear of very few airport secuirty breaches - despite the fact that Israel is generally the target of intense terrorist activity (and please, this is not an attempt to start an I/P thread by the way).

The primary difference is, however, that Israel profiles - and profiles intensely. There are a whole host of signs - in everything from body language to travel itineraries - that flat out make some people more likely than others to be planning something of ill intent. The egalitarian sensibilities in the US, that would make such profiling uncomfortable, run headlong into the reality that if you want to actually stop terrorism, it is an inefficient use of resources to simply stop every 8th passenger (even if they are a grandmother that can barely walk), or use some other politically correct method. The other factor, however, is that the people in Israel that do the profiling are trained security professionals ... not ex-convicts working for an entry-level wage that receive 4 hours of training before being set loose on passengers.
posted by MidasMulligan at 12:24 PM on August 29, 2002

I grew up with pilots. The general opinion among the particular folks I knew (during the 1970's and 1980's) was that there should not be a door from the cockpit to the general cabin at all. Pilots would enter the plane through a door only accessible from outside the aircraft, would have their own bathroom, own meals, etc.

The only drawback to this would be if both the Captain and the co-pilot were somehow both incapacitated. The solution to this would be to have a third pilot (like the engineer in the days of yore) traveling on any given flight.

I recently asked some of these older pilots what they thought of having a gun in the cockpit. They had no problem with pilots handling guns (many pilots are former military anyway), but they did believe that a gun in the cockpit was a gun that somebody other than a pilot could get.

Better, they felt, to just make it impossible to reach the cockpit by replacing the cockpit door with a solid steel wall.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:27 PM on August 29, 2002

The whole "arm the pilots" scheme only works if you assume that the pilots themselves could never be terrorists. Best if none of the crew are armed, so the rogue crew member can be overpowered.
posted by yesster at 12:58 PM on August 29, 2002


I lived in Germany for 4 years and traveled around Europe while I was there. I've been on flights that stopped in several countries. As I stated before I have not had the misfortune of having my luggage lost. I am one of the lucky few.

Your mistaken about where my fear lies. I am not afraid that someone is going to hijack a plane that I am on. I am afraid someone is going to hijack a plane and use it in a similar fashion as on 9/11.

I'm willing to inconvenience millions of air travelers so that another flying bomb is not flown into another major metropolitan area.

It seems like we are hearing about major screwups in airport security on a weekly/monthly basis. People who didn't know how easy it is to get stuff through security do now. I don't believe in pretending that this cannot happen again. I am unwilling to put my head in the sand regarding the possibility for the sake of convenience.

Have you already forgotten how much money 9/11 has cost the United States, and continues to cost us in it's chilling effect on our economy?

I want airlines to make effective logical changes in their security precautions and that means overhauling the system/practice and business of air travel. That means changing how luggage is handled too.

Your penchant for carryon luggage is inconveniencing everyone who wants to ride a plane with a 2-3 hour wait. How about we rule that every carryon bag needs to go through the same catscan that they have ruled that luggage is going to need to go through and then provide people without carryon luggage a fast track through the whole boarding process.

This way you (person with carryon luggage) will be the only ones inconvenienced without threatening the security of our cities.

My whole point about the handgun is this:

If our airline security cannot catch a handgun then it definitely isn't going to catch something just a little more sophisticated and subtle. Eliminating carryon luggage as a threat is the only logical conclusion then.

Eliminating handguns doesn't eliminate the threat of hijacking. According to the US Government the hijackers used box knives.

The debate is how do we do so. Someone in this thread suggested we use clear plastic bags. That is an idea, not perfect but better than what we have now.

As it stands now I don't see why another hijacking hasn't already occurred.

How do you suggest we stop our planes from being flown into buildings?

If we had air marshals on every plane or armed pilots and a reinforced cockpit door then I think we could keep carryons. The problem is that our government is not implementing these steps. Instead they are doing the bare minium to make people think they are doing something, without really doing anything at all.

The security of my country is worth more than your camera.
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 1:19 PM on August 29, 2002


Our government is tightening things up at the terminals, or so they would claim.

If airlines handled luggage appropriately and you were not at the risk of having your possessions stolen then you would check your bags?

So a possible solution to the problem then is not increasing searches of carryon luggage etc., but simply eliminating carryon luggage and improving the manner in which luggage is handled so that possessions are not damaged or stolen.

I would think that this would be much more cost effective, convenient, and require less time for boarding then the 2-3 hours we currently are recommended.
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 1:45 PM on August 29, 2002

Wong, removing carry-on doesn't prevent a determined party from getting something lethal onto the plane. A ceramic blade would just sail through the detectors, strap it to your back with a silicon pad over it and even a frisk wouldn't discover it. All you end up doing is making things a bigger pain in the ass than they already are with zero effect on the likelihood of something bad happening.

Having separate lines for carry on/ no carry on is a separate issue though and not such a bad idea although I often skip to the front if I don't have any carry on as it is now.
posted by zeoslap at 2:03 PM on August 29, 2002

Wong: I think you need to take a nap. Or a walk around the block. Getting your panties in a twist about the 2k$ camera that I take on board is not a good use of your anxiety. Also, drawing a direct connection between the worth of my camera (or valuables) and the security of the whole country is a specious argument. It would be more accurate to compare the valuables of 600 million passengers per year (an approximate number) to the security of the nation. Or, considering that the attacks of September 11th were the first of their kind, ever, you could compare the valuables of all passengers who have ever flown with the monetary loss of September 11th.

At some point, you quickly reach a point of diminishing returns, and like rory said, moving the decimal one place (from one chance in a billion to one chance in 10 billion) isn't much of a return for the inconveniencing of the whole nation.
posted by bshort at 2:04 PM on August 29, 2002

i know it's been mentioned several times, and i really was going to let this go, but the woman in the article got onto a plane with a .357 magnum semiautomatic. This is significant for a couple of reasons:

1.) It's a magnum which means that it was not the smaller (but still quite powerful .357 S&W) cartridge.

2.) It was a semiautomatic. There are many .357 mag revolvers that are actually quite small and, at least hypothetically, easier to miss in an inspection.

This means that in all probability, this is what she brought onto that plane.

How could they miss a friggin' Desert Eagle?
posted by quin at 6:56 PM on August 29, 2002

Wong, I only used my own personal examples here because you'd already made it personal by constantly referring to 'you' (me) as if I personally was some sort of threat to World Security. Enough people here have weighed in with their support that I feel no need to further weigh down the thread with personal examples. But:

The security of my country is worth more than your camera.

This isn't about 'the security of your country'. This is about your own personal sense of security (of your country, if not of yourself) - as you keep demonstrating by getting so personal in your comments. I maintain that a one-off incident extremely unlikely to recur in the same way is of such marginal significance to your actual security (as opposed to your personal sense of security) that to ban all carry-on baggage everywhere is a huge, huge over-reaction, and falls into the category of 'Bathwater, Throwing Baby Out With'.

Your penchant for carryon luggage is inconveniencing everyone who wants to ride a plane with a 2-3 hour wait.

Nonsense. Since 9/11 I've been through airports in the US, the UK, Canada, Belgium, Germany, and Ireland, and none of those times has there been anything like a 2-3 hour wait. And what has waiting time got to do with your sense of 'security', anyway?

Someone in this thread suggested we use clear plastic bags.

Yeah, what a brilliant idea. Then some power-tripping security guard can see that we're reading Hayduke Lives and bar us from the flight all the more easily.

If our airline security cannot catch a handgun then it definitely isn't going to catch something just a little more sophisticated and subtle. Eliminating carryon luggage as a threat is the only logical conclusion then.

No. Making a realistic assessment of risks and balancing those against the costs of taking measures that in all likelihood wouldn't make any difference anyway, because determined hijackers will find other ways, is the only logical conclusion.

If you're talking threats, cars kill thousands and thousands of people every year, do untold damage to air quality, contribute to acid rain and greenhouse gases with huge implications for our standard of living the world over, and require more and more highways to be built at great cost to the cityscape and countryside. So: ban all cars, then?

I accept that you're feeling edgy about it all, Wong. So is the entire population of the Western world. The rest of us have the right to go about our lives, too.
posted by rory at 5:40 AM on August 30, 2002


The point is that we should be limiting hijackings to the people that are really determined. The steps being taking right now do not come close to approximating that requirement as illustrated by a .357 automag sneaking through security at a major American Airport.

I don't lay awake at night thinking about this. I just don't think we should make things easy for the opposition. The US was attacked by a group that is trained in taking advantage of our complacency.

Our economy is dependent on air travel to some degree. Hijacking another plane would hurt the US economy and probably force the US government to really take over air port security.

To give you an analogy: X borrows my car one evening and leaves it unlocked for 1-3 hours in a horrible neighborhood. X also knows that there are car thieves in this neighborhood. Even though the likelihood of it being stolen is Z and determined car thieves could have stolen the car anyway, should I be happy about X's practice of leaving my car unlocked? Should I be happy with X's practice if the car is stolen.


Before 9/11 if you'd asked anyone on the street the likelihood of someone hijacking a plane and flying it into the WTC or the Pentagon and they wouldn't have known how to respond except to laugh.

Now we know it is all too possible. Obviously we have a disagreement on the likelihood of someone hijacking a plane again in the US. As for throwing the baby out with the bathwater I agree that that is the case and that there are other deterrents we could use.

I started this discussion because it seems to me that we are not using those deterrents. I also wanted explore some alternatives. Since carryon luggage is not necessary for you to physically travel through the air it is logical that it could be eliminated as a security risk.

I went back and examined my arguments and see where I went wrong with my directing things at "you" and even inadvertently misrepresented where my concern lies with:

"I don't believe that my security on an airplane is worth your camera...."


"The security of my country is worth more than your camera."

These statements translate to your point is not worth my point and were not meant to be personal.

I apologize for accidentally making this argument personal. It was not my intention. I have enjoyed discussing this with you.
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 8:00 AM on August 30, 2002

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