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Air Travel Becomes Easier Again – Not

In my role, I do a modest amount of travel, mostly long distances away from my enclave in the wilds ofNew Hampshire. And I actually like flying; I was an early private pilot, and only my severely deficient eyesight kept me out of Air Force pilot training twenty-five years ago. My favorite flying experience was as a passenger in an Air Force jet preparing to make a wheels-up landing because the pilots couldn't get a green light on the gear lock indicator (ultimately, after dumping fuel, they were able to confirm a gear lock, and the landing proceeded normally, to my dismay).

These days, flying is less fun. Much of that is understandable. To make matters worse, there are persistent rumors that laptops may at some point be banned from carry-on baggage, a fact that would kill all business travel for me and for many others. This restriction actually occurred for a couple of weeks in the UK after the incident this summer.

But the major problem is that the security restrictions that we all put up with defy rational analysis. While it is impossible to prove a negative, it is not at all clear that existing security measures can consistently and accurately deal with a threat.

A recent example serves to illustrate both the capricious nature of our security restrictions (http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/09/28/idiot.baggie/index.html). In this case, a man placed his liquids in a clear plastic bag, as required, but wrote Kip Hawley is an Idiot on the bag (Hawley is Director of the Transportation Security Agency). The passenger was detained, and the police were called (to no surprise, police determined that no crime was committed, and the man was ultimately released).

Aviation security must be able to distinguish between mildly obnoxious behavior and threatening behavior. No doubt the screeners were annoyed, but their response in this instance was arbitrary and capricious. In a reliable security system where lives are at stake, this should not happen. I have always been willing to give the system and its participants the benefit of doubt. Until now.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 10/01/2006


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