On Mr. Sizzly Pants, terrorism, and airline safety


I’m safely ensconced in a ski hut in Austria but I’ll be traveling back to the US of A shortly and I look forward to not being able to use electronic items in the last hour of my nine hour flight. After all, that is the magic hour, the hour during which most intercontinental planes are circling over US soil and would, therefore, apparently make the biggest impression on a scared and frightened American populace. After all, if Mr. Sizzly Pants (thanks, Xeni and Antinious), late of Nigeria, had blown his bomb over Amsterdam who would care? As O’Reilly et al point out, that den of iniquity would be better off for it.

I’m all for airline safety. I’m all for security. I’ll stew in my juices for the last hour of the flight if need be. But security directives that expect terrorists to use the same basic game plan over an over again are, at best, magical thinking. Bruce Schneier once again hits the nail on the head when he writes:

Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.

The rest of the security theater happens on the ground and we will have to give up a great deal of liberty and treasure to stop future Sizzler’s from lighting up their seats. Try flying El Al from Jerusalem. You are examined to within an inch of your patience by chipper but thorough Israeli operatives. They had us take everything out of our carry-ons, gave us pat-downs, and generally suspected every single thing in their field of vision a potential threat, including defenseless MacBooks. Israel has a real problem on its hands and if our threats are as real and as near as theirs, then by all means incorporate that draconian system at JFK. But that’s not appropriate. They have an ages old hot conflict over their border. He have some Nigerian dude with firecrackers.

We are working under the assumption that all terrorists are like Alan Rickman in Die Hard – we’ll appointed bad-guys with guns and bombs galore. I assert that this is wrong. Most attacks on planes will be thwarted from now until forever. Random nuts will pop up, the news cycle will whirr itself to pieces over it, and we will feel less safe. We will have to turn off our iPods, won’t be able to go to the potty, and will suffer under the theater of security.

To quote Schneier again:

Only one carry on? No electronics for the first hour of flight? I wish that, just once, some terrorist would try something that you can only foil by upgrading the passengers to first glass and giving them free drinks.

There are better ways to stay safe and I know the TSA is trying their best but this parade of regulation is reactive, not preventative. When the real Alan Rickman terrorist team wants to get its way, it will (ask the folks in Mumbai). All we can hope is that our technology, our culture, our politics, and our perception in the world will protect us as it has for the past half-century.

For more information check out Sascha Segan’s article on Frommer’s about the delays.