Airline Safety Measures--Is Anything Real Being Done?

(Apologies if this is the wrong forum for this.)

I am puzzled. What is really going on? We’re now banned from carrying tweezers, corkscrews, nail clippers, embroidery sissors, and even safety pins on aiplanes? No knives of any sort with airline meals, not even plastic ones? Does anyone really think that any of these items represent an actual threat to anyone’s safety? Should we assume that these bans are symbolic actions, meant to reassure the public? But how can anything so silly reassure anyone?

Far from being reassured, I’m concerned. I have to suspect that these symbolic gestures are a substitute for serious measures.

IMO, the hijackings of 09/11/01 were accomplished with boxcutters ONLY because airline employees had been trained for years (and passengers had been told for years): don’t resist a hijacker; the best outcome can be obtained by going along with the trip to some 3rd world county. That concept is now utterly, utterly dead. IMO, from now on, if anyone tries to hijack a plane with any sort of edged weapon, they’ll be rushed immediately by passengers and crew deterimined to prevent another WTC crash. No one is going to be able take over a plane with a real knife, let alone a pair of tweezers or a safety pin. So why ban tweezers, corkscrews, etc?

There’s nothing wrong with making it as difficult as possible for future hijackers. It’ll be easier for passengers and crew to subdue a hijacker armed only with his Hands of Death[sup]TM[/sup] than it will be if he’s holding something that can cut you. It may be a small thing, but it’s something. I don’t think it’s a symbolic gesture at all.

In any case, before 9/11 nobody thought that someone could hijack a plane with a boxcutter. They don’t want to make the same mistake again.

On the other efforts front, several things are happening:

  • Airlines are installing locks on cockpit doors or replacing them with bulletproof and force-resistant ones right now.

  • Discussions are ongoing within the ALPA (air line pilots association - the pilots’ union) about arming pilots.

  • The government is committed to expanding the use of sky marshals.

These measures are completely symbolic, the efforts of a suffering industry trying to reassure its custom. 9/11 was not made possible by knives or boxcutters, rather it was the attitude of the staff and passengers, who were led to believe that compliance with the terrorists was the safest action. This mentality no longer exists, and regardless of what weapons terrorists have at their disposal, it will not be possible for them to take control of a commercial aircraft without encountering opposition. Consequently, unless a commercial plane can be hijacked by terrorists who outnumber the passengers, a repeat of these disasters is inconceivable, and it seems highly improbable that any organisation would attempt such an audacious assault again.

The reason that these measures have been taken, is because there are a lot of stupid out there, who will be reassured to some degree by the fact that it will now take an hour longer to board a plane. Actions as cosmetic as these will convince many passengers that steps are being taken to restore their safety.

Just gestures nothing more , since a news paper reporter still got into a cockpit after th 9/11 event , also pilots think armoured doors are dangerous if something gets buggered up in the cockpit and somebody else has to reprogram the computer to land someplace . Still in the UK they scan all your luggage but in the US they scan a sample somebody meantioned somebody managing to get a handgun onboard since it wasn’t 9/10 chance luggage isn’t checked still , however its an economic cause mainly the airlines employ alot of people and these gestures are to convince the easily led to believe that they are safe when very little has actually changed.

I saw a news report regarding an airport(but don’t remeber it all that well).

The gist was that they had to stop planes from taking off and had everbody on board re-checked for weapons. Why? Because an alert worker noticed that several people had been waived though security checkpoints, even after metal detector alarms had went off. So at least 1 airport is still less than diligent in regards to security.

LAX is still locked up tight as a drum. No personal vehicles are allowed on airport property, only shuttles and taxis who must show ID to LAPD officers. IMHO, this is overkill, and damaging to the LA economy(1500 people out of work at the airport, according to local news) and a strain on an already thin police force.

I think that the feds, or least state law enforcement, should take over airport security. That, and the new cockpit doors and the ban on carry-on luggage, should be more than enough.

FYI, Hong Kong Airort made me hand over my toe nail clippers (those suckers are growing out of control now) and security guards at Kuala Lumpar airport frisked me, and everyone else boarding a flight. Perth Airport had very slow in-bound customs, and all passengers luggage was searched, but I think that was more for mad cow prevention than anti-terrorism.

New cockpit doors have been installed on Virgin aircraft, but the deadbolt mechanism has been criticised as a risk to passenger safety. Not sure on the specifics, sorry.


getting on the plane this morning, found that certain items are once again allowed - nail clippers, tweezers, safety razors.

also noticed new adhoc deadbolts added to cockpit doors.

yes, the new safety regs are closing the barn doors after the horses escape. yes, you have to do them anyway, because what if you didn’t, and someone somehow pulled off * 9/11 part deux?*

but why does everyone think that the entire institution of airport security can be perfectly revamped overnight?

Yes, real work is being done. Even as we speak, barn doors are being slammed shut while entire herds of horses gallop away down the road.

Oh, and the guy? Just some nut, apparently. And wasn’t it considerate of him to go straight home after they let him out on bail the first time, so the FBI could find him again Sunday night?

Don’t worry, be happy. The Feds have everything under control.

Especially if the Republicans have their way, to let the onus of airplane security fall on the airlines, so they can subcontract the job out to the lowest bidder… just like the way it was before 9/11.

A grandmother was prevented from boarding a plane carrying knitting needles.

They were afraid she’d knit an Afghan. :slight_smile:

They’re searching luggage to be sure no one smuggles a mad cow aboard? :wink:

rjung, I don’t like either option. I don’t want business as usual (pre-Sept. 11th) but I don’t think federalizing the operation is a good solution either. A govt operation will be slower and more expensive, without necessarily being any better.

audient, in the changed, post-9/11 world, I don’t think anyone can possibly pull off a hijacking with real knives, so what point is there in disallowing tweezers, corkscrews, etc.? The old concepts of what a hijacking is all about, and how crew and passengers should respond, are totally dead.

Good post, DDG – I was going to bring that case up, but wouldn’t have documented it as well as you did. Someone discussing this incident on CNN suggested that poorly-trained people had adjusted their gizmo to detect pocket change and safety pins, not realizing that they were thereby rendering it unable to detect large stuff such as this guy had. He said that various gizmos are in use, and some work that way: set them to detect very small items, and they’ll miss large things.

Why not? It works for the Armed Forces, don’t it? Just think of Airport Security as one of the functions of the Border Patrol or the Coast Guard, if you must.

Whle in general I favor smaller federal government, in this case I believe we are foolish to continue to let airport security be run by private concerns. This is a function of national security and law enforcement, both of which have always been handled by government, not by contractors.

In this instance, I think GOP’ers on the Hill are letting ideology interfere with the right solution. It’s a bad call, and in the wake of the O’Hare embarrassment, I think the Republicans ought to gracefully concede the point.

Let’s get federal employees, and let’s pay them enough to make sure we can get good people.

  • Rick

Bricker and rjung, here’s the thing. If the feds take over, will it mean that we’ll have airport security handled by well-trained, well-paid people? Will airport security people be the equivelent of military personnel? Or will they just federalize the existing operation? Suddenly, the same ill-trained people will be federal employees – no better at their jobs then they were the day before they were federalized, but now much harder to fire if they screw up, with bosses who are suddenly much less accountable if their operation screws up?

Well, since the standards for a federalized airport security system haven’t been established yet, it could certainly go either way, right? Though in the shadow of 9/11, I think any attempts to make a federal airport security branch into a limp-wristed joke won’t have a snowball’s chance of making it through the legislature – it’d be too easy for another Congressperson to shoot it down and make himself/herself look strong on national defense to the voters.

As it is, I find the Republicans’ knee-jerk disdain for anything federal to be annoying in this case.

The ban on any sharp object is largely for show. As many incidents have shown, there are still gaping holes in security.

I was on a plane last week and saw something that hadn’t occured to me, but it remains a real challenge to airline security.

All good that they are placing locks on cockpit doors, but AFAIK, there are no planes with bathrooms in the cockpit.
In the plane I was on the pilot came out of the cockpit to use the bathroom. Since it was occupied, he had to stand there and wait, in full view of everyone (or at least anyone in the front of the plane). When finished, he just knocked on the cockpit door to get back in. From what I could see, there was no ID’ing of the pilot to get back in.

This is a serious flaw in security, and the only way to correct it is to redesign aircraft (a major expense).

Has anyone heard of anything being done about this?

There is no increase in real security. I could have taken a box-cutter onto every plane I’ve ever boarded in my life. If I had access to machine tools I could take a gun on board every plane I’ve ever boarded in my life, except possible the ammunition, which may be a little difficult, but probably to so difficult as to make it impractical or impossible.

The security measures we have taken thus far remove convenience from flying and add nothing to security. I would be willing to challenge anyone at any airport to stop me from bringing a box-cutter on board an airplane—using security checks as they exist post 9-11—in a method that would allow me to use it, though if it isn’t an airport near Boston you are going to have to foot the travel bill :slight_smile:

I maintain what I have maintained since the events, and before the events (I fly for work, so security has always had meaning for me): put plain-clothes, armed personel on flights and leave scanning the way it was. Everything else is a waste of resources and a source of frustration to those of us who would not hijack a flight, brought to you by the same typer of people who feel that “if it just changes one kid we’ve accomplished something” justifies the War on Drugs. Ineffective, inefficient, frustrating, and generally a bad idea.

I agree with Eris 100% The goal of removing every weapon as lethal as a box cutter is flatly impossible, and we shouldn’t be wasting money trying to do it.

I’ll go even further than eris - give me a workshop and an afternoon, and I’ll come up with a way to get a small loaded pistol on the plane that will get through almost any amount of reasonable screening.

Give me a laptop computer, and I’ll hide half a dozen box cutter knives in it in a way that would never be found by security.

Terrorists are not stupid, they are fanatical. They have access to machine shops, and they have plenty of time to prepare for missions. Given that, there is simply NO WAY you are going to stop them from getting the weapons they need on board, unless your security gets so strict that you effectively shut down business travel.

The threat of aircraft being used as flying missiles ended the day it started, because the people on airplanes will now fight back if someone tries to hijack one. That avenue is closed to terrorists - let’s not cripple our aviation industry and spend billions of tax dollars chasing shadows.

True. To an extent. The market needs confidence. People will not fly without a confidence in saftey. Americans are fairly risk averse (outside ‘set-up’ controlled risk things like adventure travel). Steps need to be taken to address concerns, however irrational.

An education campaing might work, but I bloody doubt it.

Fallacy of the excluded middle. ERL is much better at this than you. The question is not truly 100% exclusion but rather a different balance between current lax controls and a level of controls which raise the barriers enough to (a) reinstill confidence (b) prevent some degree of threat.

It does not follow that domestic baggage scanning, which anyone who has travelled abroad can compare rather unfavorably with overseas security, can not be increased at reasonable cost to achieve a reasonably higher degree of security while still allowing for economic use of air travel. A matter of careful cost and risk analysis.

(1) Rubbish. To the same extent that passengers are aware of the risk of becoming manned missiles, the al-Qaeda people are aware of the new risk of passenger intervention. All that is needed is seizure of the cockpit, will reinforced doors one has a new spanky barrier. Declaring the threat over is rather simple-minded and commits the same fallacy as pre-11 September risk assessements. Even a crashed hijacked airline over a major population center is a severe risk, never mind the question of success.

(2) The degree to which North American aviation was able to externalize security costs and risks from it’s cost of doing business in the past is clearly unsupportable. To some extent some airline business would appropriately and economically be shifted to other forms of travel, such as rail. The extent to which one desires to maintain a level of airline travel above that which might be sustainable at a fully priced security system, one will have to subsidize security expenditures. Federalizing screening for example, paid out of general funds as opposed to levies on tickets would be an option.

I anticipate the knee-jerk ideological reaction against government intervention, however looking at the pure economics of the matter, it’s fairly clear that security is one of those goods that the free market does not do terribly well in providing at adequate levels when there is significant threat. Good security is expensive and free-riding is all too easy.

An emperical question, and perhaps one best addressed by a law which allows for some regulated sub-contracting for some functions, is to what degree private service and state policing functions can profitably be mixed here.

In any case, I’ll close by observing that knee-jerk ideologically rather than economically informed free-marketeerism is every bit as bad as knee-jerk ideologically informed statism.

Oh, please. First, where do you see any ‘knee-jerk’ free market support here? Or were you responding to an argument that has not yet been made?

As for your ‘fallacy of the excluded middle’, sorry but I don’t buy it. A huge amount of business travel involves short hops between major centers. For example, here in Edmonton we have a number of 737 shuttle flights between here and Calgary. The drive to Calgary takes 3 hours. Currently, a flight to Calgary will shave perhaps an hour off this time after you factor in the time it takes to get to the airport, check in, wait at the gate, etc.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the margin of convenience is very small in favor of airline flight. Add half an hour on each end for added security, and you’ll effectively kill that entire route.

Go look at all the short-hop business routes between places like Washington and New York, or various cities in California, or Toronto and Montreal, and you start to get a sense of just how much damage even a reasonably modest increase in security will start to cause.

Another example: The airlines are now using the security angle to try to limit carry-on baggage to one piece. That means it will be hard to carry everything you need for even a short business trip on board the aircraft with you. On these short-hop flights, that’s the difference between walking off the plane and getting into the company car, and walking off the plane and having to walk across the terminal and wait 20 minutes for your baggage to show up. Again, that will eliminate a fair amount of business travel by air, and divert it back onto the roads and perhaps rail.

As for increasing the confidence of travellers… I wonder how much the air travel drop-off is caused by actual worries about hijacking, and how much is caused by worries of having to dump your purse out and have your nail clippers confiscated? Or more seriously, having your laptop confiscated, or having to submit to a humiliating body search, or just being stuck in a security line for two hours?

I’ll bet that the latter worries at this point are greater for the average person than the actual fear of a hijacking.

You are also making a large leap from your claim that the airlines won’t spend their own money on security to postulating the need for a large new federal bureaucracy. There are plenty of ways around this problem that doesn’t require an army of new federal employees. For example, you can take the burden of security away from airlines and put it on the airport, and allow them to charge a gate fee to cover it. Then put in some federal inspections and guidelines for how the security must be carried out. There are plenty of solutions available with varying degrees of government involvement, and only one of them requires a new federalized baggage service.

The most effective things you can do to prevent terrorists from using planes like missiles are to put air marshals back on flights, to make passengers aware of the threat so that they won’t be passive about it, and to increase military readiness so that jets can be intercepted.

And you don’t have to make the aircraft perfectly safe in order to prevent a terrorist attack - you just have to make the chance of a sucessful attack low enough that they will choose another method. You don’t need to confiscate toenail clippers to do that.