Post 9/11 Flight Security: When Increased Safety Isn't More Effective

On Sept. 4, 2001, one of my employees was walking home from a store when she was jumped and robbed. "I was enraged," she said, and couldn't stop talking about it. A week later, the Twin Towers came down. "Suddenly," she said, "my pathetic little mugging was nothing at all."

Perspective is an interesting thing. In the early days and months after 9/11, when the grotesque images of skyscrapers crashing to earth were so fresh in our minds, we gladly went through new and strange security rituals; as soon as we were brave enough to get back on a plane, that is.

WHAT TO KNOW
  • Rick Seaney of FareCompare analyzes how flight security measure don't necessarily make flying easier or more effective.

But security got increasingly complicated and more time-consuming; remember the first time you were told to take off your shoes? Remember being asked to dump out your water bottle? And how about the back-and-forth scrutiny between driver's license and airline ticket that causes even the angels among us to feel a dart of guilt? What I really miss, though, is being able to say hello or good bye to the people you love at the gate.

Flying Post-9/11 Is More Complicated, But Is It Safer?

There are worse things, though; like being selected to step into a body scan machine.

It wasn't long before it all seemed less like a war on terror than a battle amongst ourselves, as tension between the TSA and passengers soared. Our "sacrifices" in the name of security were questioned even as those who followed the rules were demonized as "sheep". And, for what? Here's a quote from the Nashua, New Hampshire Telegraph: "You think of the amount of resources that go into security now, and how you can't be sure you're safe." The speaker is the widow of the pilot of American Airlines flight 11, the first of the planes to hit the World Trade Center.

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Absolutely, we are safer, but yes, there will always be threats and some of those threatening us may be successful. We know that, but we must keep trying anyway even as anger over new security measures continues. But maybe that's the American way.

I think all of us recognize that Americans have a uniquely "can do" spirit. If something's broken, our attitude is, fix it. Forget nuance and subtlety, we're all about results. Kind of reminds me of FDR's response to the Great Depression, when he threw out an alphabet soup's worth of agencies, trying anything to solve the problem.

You could say that's what the TSA is doing today when they talk about their "layers of security" which include x-raying luggage, bomb sniffing dogs and random encounters at the gate, as well as those annoying body scan machines with their continually-morphing images.

But when "can do", can't - as when our security procedures don't work - we get mad. I mean, how many different boarding passes did that Nigerian-American man allegedly have on him when he was finally arrested last month after blithely flying around the country? Boarding passes that authorities say were not only expired, but not even in his name. His ID allegedly wasn't any good, either. Where were our security professionals? (Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi plead guilty to the stowaway charge and will sentenced in November).

Then this past month, ABC News reported that some body scan machines, widely reviled for showing too much, may not show enough - at least in terms of threats. According to the report, the German government halted the full roll out of a type of scanner used in U.S. airports after an official in Germany said "the devices sound too many false alarms, including at times mistaking underarm sweat for dangerous chemicals." Not good. No wonder some are angry.

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