What does "real" airline security look like?

There has been a lot of criticism about US security procedures in the past week, which seems to be coming to a head in a National Opt-Out Day just before Thanksgiving. On this day, people are being urged to opt out of body scans and instead submit to an enhanced pat-down search… which is also being criticized as being too personal.

There are many people who are essentially saying that TSA procedures are ineffective, incompetently carried out, and ultimately useless – they are nothing more than “security theater,” intended to try to make the public feel secure, when really nothing effective is being done to catch the bad guys.

Some have pointed out that El Al has a reputation for being the world’s most secure airline. But could their system of intensive interviews really be translated from one company that serves about 3 million passengers a year, to the major American airlines like United (80 million passengers/year), American (86 million pax/yr), Southwest (100 million pax), and Delta (160 million pax)?

So what does “real” security look like? What do passengers have to submit to in order for the screening to be “real,” and how much more would we be willing to pay for “real” security?

People who aren’t familiar with El Al’s security procedures can take a look at passenger comments here and decide for themselves whether they’d rather go through TSA or El Al security.

Ideally, El Al. That said, El Al could never work in the US, if only because of the size and time required. What would probably work, in my opinion:

Keep the metal detector.
Baggage still goes through X-ray. Probably overcoats as well, but I don’t really see a need for shoes.
Get rid of the limitations on liquids.
Bomb-sniffing dogs. Everybody likes dogs, and they’ll do a much better job than all the pornoscans and groping ever could.

Checked luggage:
Everything gets scanned. Period. No more of this 95% unscanned stuff.

Stop screening the pilots and crew already.

My 2-cents:

TSA screening procedures are consistently able to prevent psychotics and emotionally disturbed children from wreaking havoc with poorly planned, poorly researched, hastily engineered, and most of all easy to detect, stupid destructive behavior. TSA knows this, but likes to keep the illusion that they are doing all they can do to prevent well-planned, well-financed, intelligent efforts, when in fact the only way to insulate ourselves from high-level terror would be through procedures so onerous as to be totally unacceptable. This would include full-body x-rays (the traditional kind, not this new back-scatter stuff that can’t see into someone’s belly or but), and probably an impossible level of care in examining electronics.

Based on my experience passing through Ben-Gurion Airport, the difference between Israeli airport security and the TSA can be boiled down to one thing: its workers are smart, well-trained and allowed to exercise their own judgment. The first two elements come from Israel’s unique social conditions (we have a huge reserve of military veterans working their way through college, which is something most other countries lack); the latter is antithetical to the U.S. bureaucratic mindset.

To American pencil-pushers, independent thinking by people not wearing suits leads to liability. Best follow the book to the letter.

It’s not that they think independent thinking leads to liability. It’s that they’re not willing to spend the money to train them to understand the consequences of their independent thinking.

For example, TSAs get about 40 hours of training, most of which is on equipment operation and procedures for disabled/special needs passengers.

Ok I am no defender of the TSA. But what happens in Israel is impractical in the US. The US is the center of world commerce and travel. You start giving out discretion at a lower level and the whole thing collapses. You can exersize discretion etc etc in small enviroments like Israel. Not so in the US where if you start making individual decisions about everyone, the whole system will collapse.

Coulkdn’t you say that about a military force? I mean, successful armies of any size are successful, to a large degree, because soldiers and officers in the field are willing to take initiative and act without waiting for orders. In fact, I’d say that this is true for any organization, from a single shop to a multinational corporation.

It’s not that Israeli airport security personel aren’t supervised, or don’t follow carefully-crafted procedures. It’s just that in addition, they’re also encouraged to use their brains.

The “scaling” argument simply doesn’t make sense to me. Larger scale means proportionately larger resources available at a given per-passenger cost – if anything, the distribution of fixed costs would make the per-passenger cost lower with upscaling.

Good point. We could not possibly do anything correctly.

It is conceivable that we could implement El Al type security in US airports. But according to El Al’s CEO, their security costs are ten times anyone else’s.

Setting aside the question of coming up with enough qualified people, that would mean turning the TSA from a $7 billion a year agency into a $70 billion a year agency. Are we really so serious about airline security that we would want to spend 9 times more on airport screeners than we currently do on the FBI?

I just don’t think we are that serious about the issue. (“We” meaning the American public, not the government.)

There’s nothing unreasonable about the backscatter machines et al. If they deter an attack that would otherwise be detected through that method, a victory that we never know about and is never reported in the press, then we win.

Secondarily, and not insignificantly, if they have the psychological effect of making people more comfortable flying, thereby enabling business, tourism, etc and the concomitant stoking of the economy, then ‘mission accomplished’ again.

If you read what TSA is doing, it’s multi-layered, relies on foreign G2, behavioral analytics, etc. The machines are yet another layer.

This is…debatable, to say the least.

I guess it’s in the right forum then!

The point is, if the perception of security is required to keep faith in the whole system and keep it from collapsing, then there’s some value to the machines beyond the actual security value they provide.

Much like the perception of financial stability is critical for a bank - even a healthy bank, once the public feels is in trouble, will get ‘runned’ and possibly brought down.

Does anyone but the truly deluded person actually perceive that airports and airliners are secure?

Does “secure” mean impervious to attack?

If that’s what it means, then where are the anti-missile systems on the airliners I ride that can defeat those highly effective triple-digit SAMs that the Russians are selling?

The simple fact is that they do not deter attacks. They simply cause modifications in tactics.

The bottom line is that there have been several examples of attacks on airplanes foiled by terrorist ineptitude after the weapons were successfully smuggled in and no examples of attacks on airplanes foiled because the TSA caught the perps at the screening checkpoint. That’s damning evidence that it’s all useless security theater.

Ben-Gurion airport is a reasonably large airport. I don’t see why what works at that airport would not work at any American airport.

Ben-Gurion sees about 10 million passengers a year, which would put it somewhere around the 100th busiest airport in the world. There are at least 25 airports in the US with more passenger traffic.


Still trying to find a recent news report stating the US military has spent tens of millions of dollars building electronic/mechanical sniffers to safely look for IEDs. Now the military is taking an abrupt about face and going back to low-tech. Bomb-sniffing dogs can do it faster/better/cheaper than anything else, bar none.

Throw in a couple of drug sniffing dogs in the mix and TSA can do a twofer - terrorists and tokers for the same price. :slight_smile: