After 9/11: Flying the Friendly Skies

Exactly six weeks after terrorists turned several of our airliners into guided missiles, I flew again.

Going through security at Denver International was interesting: because my shoes apparently have metal in them, they asked me to remove them so they could run them through the x-ray machine. I actually think that’s fairly smart; if you want to smuggle razor blades onto an airliner, that’d be the place to do it.

The only gotcha: do you think they provided chairs for the dozens of people they were doing this to so they could put their shoes back on? Nope.

Inconsistent Rules

Then, on the way home, security at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport in Texas was interesting too. They weren’t the least bit concerned that the metal detector beeped when they waved it over my shoes. But they were sure interested in my briefcase, since the x-ray operator spotted nail clippers inside.

Caution: dangerous weapon.

But wait: the government reassured us that nail clippers were OK! Yes, nail clippers are OK, I was told. But look at the included metal nail file with a (dull) point on it! That’s a no-no, I was assured — the 1.25″ file is apparently enough to overpower a heavily armed air marshal, and the screener broke it off and handed me my clipper.

They said nothing about the several pens I had on me, of course; a pen is “mightier than the sword” in more ways than one.

It would be pretty darn hard for the tiny file (mounted on a pivot) to hurt someone, so I sure as heck wouldn’t think a terrorist would choose that as a weapon over a nice long, sharp pen. At least Denver’s worry about metal in my shoes had some logic to it, and they realized that a tiny nail file wasn’t a weapon. But the opposite was true in Texas.

It all comes down to the thought processes of a person who wasn’t smart enough to get a better-paying job at the airport McDonald’s.

I do think the airlines have to be careful, but they don’t have to be stupid. They will make mistakes, but when they do they need to apologize for them. The airlines are whining about how the public isn’t flying. Instead of offering more value to attract passengers, the airlines are cutting back on service (like reducing food service) and more and more treating passengers like cattle, a trend that started long before September 11.

Will some airlines fail in the next year? Almost certainly. They’ll blame it on terrorism, rather than putting the blame where it really lies.

Clue: we’re not scared of flying, we’re fed up with how the airlines are treating us, their paying customers!

Anyway, I was in Dallas to do a consulting job. A large, non-profit Christian group dedicated to helping churches grow and better serve their members and communities needed help with focusing their email newsletters to their mission and their president, a long-time True fan and Premium subscriber, flew me in. (Boy, is that going to confuse the ranters who insist True and I are anti-Christian!) It was a fun and interesting session.

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5 Comments on “After 9/11: Flying the Friendly Skies

  1. I work for a storage facility & we have cameras all over our property. I have a great little old guy who put them in & services them. During one visit, he asked if I needed a box-cutter. He had managed to get a whole box of them from a bank (a free give-away that had their name & logo). The bank was located in the airport, just past the security checkpoint. He was doing some work at the airport & noticed them sitting out on the counter as he was passing it by. When he brought it to the teller’s & security’s attention, he was given the whole box, as he was on his way out anyway. That was about 3 years ago.

    Just last year a friend’s grandmother took a trip to S. America. She was all but stripped leaving from the airport here & almost denied her medications. After several problems with tickets & such, they ended up coming home through Florida. They allowed her to bring back a lovely machete she had picked up as a gift for one of her sons without batting an eye. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d be more fearful of a machete-wielding granny than one with a few pills in her possession!

  2. Back in 1986 when I was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I saw a toy that I knew my 7 year old son would enjoy. It was a toy “laser rifle”, a gaudy plastic device of every vibrant hue and, when the trigger was pulled, displayed moving lights and emitted an distinctly ‘laserly’ eeh-eeh sound. In Saudi riyals, it was the equivalent of $10 U.S. Such a toy in the U.S. would have sold for at least $50 or even more, so I bought it.

    Leaving Jeddah, I had to go to a little country called Oman. Unfortunately, Omani customs would not let me bring such a ‘weapon’ into the country. No problem; I was only going to be there for three days so I left it with Customs. As I was leaving Oman, I picked up my son’s toy from Customs.

    Unfortunately, airport security would not let me carry such a ‘weapon’ onto the plane. Even as I explained that it was only a toy, they still insisted that they would place it on board in the security of the captain’s cabin.

    So, here I am, getting comfortable in Business Class when the Captain of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines walks into the section brandishing my son’s toy. “Who does this belong to?” he demanded. Sheepishly, I raised my hand and he proffered it to me. “You hold this,” he commanded impatiently. So all the way to NYC, I’ve still got my son’s toy.

    At JFK Int’l, I had to switch to US Airways to continue home. Also at JFK, security would not let me carry such a ‘weapon’ on the plane. It would have to be placed in the captain’s cabin by legitimate security people. This time no Captain came out with my kid’s toy. All the way home, I hoped that it had made it with me.

    Once landed at my hometown airport, I got off the plane, went to the gate desk and asked for my toy. I was lectured how the gate area was still a secured area and I’d have to pick it up at baggage. Yes, after all that, it did manage to make it all the way home where my kid enjoyed it for maybe a week before he rendered it a piece of junk.

    Still, I have to wonder, with all that rigid security over something so obviously a fake and a toy, how did so many hijackers get through such tough security 15 years later? Oh, that’s right, I forgot, it’s important to LOOK efficient when they don’t have a clue….

    Just so. Indeed the sad corollary to “doing something” about an item that only looks like a weapon, but isn’t, is often “doing nothing” about an item that doesn’t look like a weapon — but is. In each case the results are ridiculous, if not harmful. -rc

  3. Contrary to popular belief, airlines have never provided the security screening. That is the job of the Federal government. In turn, the the agency hires a local company as a contractor. Folks, this is the airport equivalent of mall security. Yes, $6 an hour rent-a-cops! They’ve got an x-ray machine and a metal detector. Don’t let anybody through that looks suspicious. What’s “suspicious?” Well, you know, just use your ‘common sense’. And now those bozos are asking DHS to let them carry guns!

  4. After 9/11, I vowed that I would NEVER again set foot in an airline or airport terminal unless and until such time as “normalcy” returned. To this day, I refuse to patronise the airlines. I am not afraid of air travel per se, but I am fed up with stupid “security” restrictions. If I travel somewhere, I drive my car or motorcycle (and take whatever I please) or take a train or bus. If I can’t do that, I will not go.

    You’re far from the only one. However, I noticed long before 9/11 that things were bad with the airlines. 9/11 didn’t start it; it just made it worse. -rc

  5. “I noticed long before 9/11 that things were bad with the airlines.”

    Back in the 80’s & 90’s (long before 9/11), I traveled through airports a lot. I can only laugh since the other option is cry. Let me tell you how I had to pretty much undress to get through the overly-sensitive metal detectors. Belt buckle? Shoes? The zipper on my pants??? (It’s PLASTICIZED, people!) In foreign airports they use wands to localize persistant beeps.

    Back then it was still legal to carry lighter fluid and I had a butane dispenser in my briefcase. Security wouldn’t let it through. I explained that federal tariff permitted up to 75 oz of lighter fluid. Well, they retorted, AIRLINE tariff prohibits it. (Airlines make their own tariff regulations?)

    However, in that same briefcase, I carried a xenon arc tube, which is an incredibly bright light source for high powered industrial film projectors. It was about 12 inches long and 3 inches in diameter, looking in X-ray just like a stick of dynamite.

    At high operating temperatures, it’s possible for it to occasionally explode, requiring a rigidly constructed housing. But at room temperature, throwing it onto the floor only pebblizes the glass envelope. Still, just to be absolutely safe, it’s packed in a plexiglass carrying tube, with a notice in bright orange, “WARNING EXPLOSION HAZARD”.

    “What is it?” they ask.

    “Basically a light bulb,” I answer.

    “Okay, you can go through,” they reply.

    AFTER I’ve had to take off my belt, my shoes, ostensibly my pants, AND having to give up my lighter fluid…


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