If you hold a passport from Cuba, Iran, Sudan, or Syria, countries considered “state sponsors of terrorism,” or similar “countries of interest” such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen…don’t plan on making your connecting flight any time soon to your final destination inside the US.
The attempted underwear bombing was, thankfully, a horrific failure. Someone, indeed, should be held accountable. Heads should roll in responsible security services.
Just please don’t call what the TSA and other agencies do around the world, ‘security.’ What it is, is an expensive, showy jobs-program. Ask any road-warrior business traveller what he or she thinks about airline safety and to a person they will say, “It’s an illusion. If someone was intent on bringing this aircraft down, no one could stop them.”
No matter that 99.99999% of the population of these 14 nations abhors acts of terror; the US has once again classically overreacted. If you have an important business meeting and need to travel like business people often do quickly? Fahgedaboutit! You’ll need at least 24 hours on either end of your trip just to account for security screening delays. Object and before you can say “rendition,” you will find yourself in a dark place with rabid approval of the “get tough on terrorism” crowd in the Washington DC and FOX News echo chambers.
After eight years of Bush-Cheney’s “Be afraid, Be Afraid, I said BE AFRAID!!!” led to the amassing of an almost useless 500,000+ name database no one can hope to manage, one man slipped through the security “ring of steel” at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Yes, the media continues to report that he boarded in notoriously porous Lagos , Nigeria , but Amsterdam is responsible for letting him onto the Northwest/Delta Detroit flight. At Schiphol Airport, they check every flight through gate-side security and… US flag carrier flights have gotten so-called “extra-screening” (both street-side and gate-side) in that airport since 9-11.
Reality Check Please
We seem to forget is that according to the Official Airline Guide in 2007 every day 81,000+ flights take off and land safely, without incident across the US, while global seat capacity is just short of 10 million people daily. Despite a half dozen or so horrific accidents each year that affect about 1,000 poor souls, it is safer to fly than to use any other form of transport, including walking(!).
We also forget that aside from the truly horrific 9-11 attacks and now two ‘attempted’ shoe bombings (Richard Reid failed and sits in prison), only six flights in almost 9 years have been affected. That translates statistically into a 99.9999973% chance of any flight operating without incident. Even if ten airplanes were so attacked, we would still be over 99.9999% safety. But irrational fear breeds stupid programs.
So if you are dealing with an enemy who has proven themselves always one step ahead of the expensive programs you put in place, why then the ‘big show’ silliness? What we must do is put security and accountability back in the hands of individual airlines. Then you will see real security if they can be held responsible vs. some amorphous government agency. Now they have complete financial and treaty immunity from terrorism and if one is a victim, cannot even be sued.
Real Airline Security
El-Al, the Israeli airline is an example of what happens if the airline is held personally responsible. I was “code-share” booked on them by Delta 4 years ago out of Toronto to San Francisco . Before I could approach the ticket counter, I was interviewed curb-side by Mossad agents, further interviewed by the ticket agent, my luggage screened by special ticket counter machines, went through airport ‘security,’ and then another security screening handsearch of every bag by El-Al staff before entering the gate. Once there, I was in a quarantined secure area until boarding. The cleaning crew were similarly quarantined there before servicing and cleaning the inbound flight from Tel Aviv.
I remembered what it was like to see them in action behind the scenes. In 1977, I worked for Aer Lingus Irish Airlines while at college. When weather caused the diversion of a New York-bound El-Al flight, my mate Rick Lawler and I were sent to greet the flight to gather the paperwork US Customs required to clear the aircraft. Since Boston was the first US port of entry, even though no one would deplane, papers needed to be stamped to allow it to continue onward.
Rick looked at me and said sternly, “Do you have an airline hat? Get one!” They were these geeky plastic brimmed hats that were gathering dust (even in the late 70s) in a closet. “Make sure your ID badges are prominently displayed on your outside shirt pocket and all of your pockets are completely empty!” he continued.
As we headed out to the end of the jetway, a cordon of Massachusetts State Police cars was on the tarmac at Gate 6 with lights flashing. The aircraft was met at the end of the runway by three other cars and escorted to the gate. Seven cars in total surrounded the plane and troopers with rifles walked around the perimeter.
Upstairs, as the aircraft stopped and the door opened, we were greeted by an unsmiling Israeli soldier with military assault rifle at the ready in both hands (I am certain the safety was off). He inspected the bridge ramp, inspected the four of us: two trembling airline employees, the Massport ramp agent who moved the jetway into place, and an armed Massachusetts State Trooper standing at ease with his rifle at his side.
I about wet myself as we hustled to Customs, got the paperwork stamped, returned to the airplane, and handed it to the unsmiling soldier. He then closed the aircraft door and waved for us to pull the jetway back. As soon as fuelling was completed, the aircraft pushed back and was taken to a remote section of the airport to await takeoff, still surrounded by police cars.
The one time we handled an El-Al charter in Boston, passengers were not taken to the terminal, rather were taken by bus, ramp-side to an old hangar where every passenger was interviewed multiple times, suitcases hand inspected and passenger patted down by a special El-Al security team brought in for the flight. It was a 3-hour process.
So when someone says ‘airport security,’ remember these El-Al examples. Aside from the tail’s blue Star of David targeting the aircraft during take-off and landing below 1,000 feet, I never felt safer on any airplane.
Denis Campbell publishes the e-magazine UKProgressive.co.uk, where this article first appeared.