Will we see a return to sensibility re: airline security?

I was reading an article about the new security scanners being trialled at Melbourne airport that can see through clothes and detect explosives in gels and liquids, which got me wondering:

Will we see a return to the days where you could bring bottles of drink and decent amounts of toothpaste onto planes and not have this bullshit where a bottle of drink purchased in the check-in area is a threat to national security but the same bottle purchased 20 metres away on the other side of a metal detector is completely harmless?

The idea would be that you could just put your liquids in something like an x-ray machine and they could be scanned, come back clear, and you could be on your way.

I think it’s pretty well established by now that the current paranoid security measures acheive nothing except A) Pissing people off, B) costing everyone money, and C) delaying people.

Do you think that we’ll see the use of new technology to alleiviate some of the silliness, or is that being far too optimistic?

Why do we need new technology to stop pissing people off and wasting time and money? Can’t we just stop pissing people off and wasting time and money?

You said yourself these paranoid security measures achieve nothing. Why invent something new, that probably costs even more money, just to prop up some paranoid charade?

Good posting.

Can’t cite it or prove it … but I believe that a return to pre-9/11 airport security measures (fastidiously implemented, mind you) would almost absolutely not bring about a repeat event. I still think that was a one-in-a-bazillion luck shot for the terrorists – if a costly and highly visible one.

The thing is that I, personally am quite prepared to take my chances regarding liquids on planes and most of the other Security Theatre™ productions that someone has decided are so important at the moment but are, IMHO, ineffectual paranoid time-wasting annoyances.

The problem is that lots and lots and lots of people disagree with me, so I see the use of the new technology as a sort of compromise between maintaining security and not treating every single person on the plane as a potential terrorist.

My thoughts exactly; If I hadn’t watched the events unfolding on TV I’d swear they belonged in a Frederick Forsyth novel. And because they were, IMHO, a one-in-a-billion gamble that worked for the terrorists, I don’t think we’re ever going to see a repeat of them, even in the eventuality of airline security reverting to pre 11/9 measures.


They aren’t searching us so that they can find bombs and catch terrorists, they’re doing it so that they can search us, and so that it looks like they’re doing something. And, as the saying goes, even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in a while–when they caught the guy with the bombs in his shoes, it wasn’t because they had shoe-bomb-scanners in place. Their profilers had picked the guy out of the line of fliers as being suspiciously suspect, so they pulled him out for special screening and looked in his shoes.

There’s also the point that just because they have scanners that can detect all known liquid explosive materials, that doesn’t mean it’ll detect something new the bad guys come up with.

For those who haven’t seen it, there’s some interesting reading on the TSA blog.

People are sheep in this respect, but it goes both ways. If the TSA, DHS, or whoever runs that type of thing in your country just put up a few posters and signs saying “You know those gel and liquid restrictions we’ve been burdening travelers with for years now? Yeah, they were a mistake, and didn’t make anyone safer. Yeah, and you don’t have to take your shoes off and throw your lighters away, either. You are just as safe as you were before. We were just being stupid.”, then I think the same people who are scared shitless of shoes and toothpaste now will find something else to be afraid of. The rest of us could have a smoother airport experience and the scaredy-cats would be placated.

But this would require a government agency to voluntarily give up a small amount of power. I don’t see that happening without a lot of pressure. Couldn’t we just put up big plastic boxes in the airport and pretend they magically check you for explosives? Win-win!

I thought that they caught that guy, on the plane, when he was trying to light his shoes. I’ve been pondering for sometime, instead of checking for liquids, why they don’t just screen for detonators. Seems the logical thing. I can think of a lot of ways for a determined group to get liquids past airport security.

And seeing the big back ups in queues getting into the "secured areas at O’Hare, Dulles and Denver, to name three, I wonder why the bad guys don’t just target the checkpoints. The checkpoint in Denver, to my untrained eye, seems like one of the most dangerous places to be. Huge crowd, with no one to check who is coming up with a cart full of bags.

Damned well put!
I find it hard to envision any retrenchment, tho.
I fondly remember the days when airport security meant checking to see if the seal on my 5th of gin was unbroken and, if it was, nothing a quick sniff or swallow couldn’t clarify.

You are right about the shoe guy: He was caught because passengers complained about a smell.

The liquid thing is a farce as well. Right after it happened, chemists and others pointed out that what they wouldn’t work, at least not well enough to bring down a plane:
Here is a general breakdown of what they would have needed to do.

The 9/11 scenario could never happen again for two reasons: Locks on cockpit doors and no one willing to let it. The only good thing I can think of that came from 9/11 is that plane hijackings are no longer going to happen, not because of better TSA security, but because everyone now knows that the best bet is to resist. The reason 9/11 worked is that everyone was taught that if your plane was hijacked, you should cooperate and wait to released or rescued. Now, even if the hijackers just wanted to take the plane to Cuba as a political statement, the passengers and crew would risk their lives to stop it on the assumption that they would die if they didn’t anyway. And all potential hijackers know it.


Great link. Thanks for this.

That’s definitely an interesting link, and it confirms what I’ve always heard about the feasibility of the liquid bomb. However, I should point out that a Register article from just last month appears to offer conflicting facts that suggest that the likelihood of success was much, much greater. Anyone reading the first link should read this one as well.

It’s still ridiculous that liquids are banned and shoes need to be put through the x-ray machine, of course.


I’ve had a tone generator in my bag before. I had meant to take it out and put it in my checked back, but had forgotten. The thing is basically a little plastic box with a switch on the side. It’s got two wires coming off of it that end in alligator clips.

I can’t imagine anything looking more like a detonator to a layman than one of these things.

Went right through with no problem.


I’m sure part of the reason it went right through was that they were busy looking for liquids. Plus most of the screeners would be challenged to find two brain cells to rub together.

We’re not going to see a repeat of 9/11 as long as anybody born before 1990 is aboard a plane that is attempted to be hijacked.

Thank goodness you didn’t have a tracer or buttset along with it. And really be glad they didn’t turn it on or they’d hear its Arab-sounding trill and toss you headlong into Gitmo.

We have to keep the world safe from telecommunications workers! Think of the children!


It’s not going to happen because such a decision would require someone, somewhere, to take responsibility for it, and the voting public does not support subtle improvements to nearly the extent that it punishes dramatic failure.

All it takes is one incident in which one plane is damaged that could conceivably have been caught by the draconian screening, and the administrator who made the decision, the politician who appointed him, and (probably) the airline that was unlucky enough to be the target will all be punished severely.

It takes no personal responsibility to continue with the current system, stupid and inefficient as it is, while it would be a huge personal risk for anyone to change it.

Bureaucrats aren’t elected and their actions are really rarely identified with a particular person. Can you name the head of the TSA off the top of your head?

I think it’s pretty reasonable to see a relaxation of the absurdity. It’ll be a little while, though, and require a transition away from holding terrorism as the central issue in foreign policy.

If you’d asked me that in person, you probably would have fainted.

I was thinking Skip Hawley for some reason, but the head of the TSA is Kip Hawley. At least I had his last name right. :stuck_out_tongue:

They actually have those in Japan. As you walk through the metal detector, just on the other side of it, there’s a little stand for your bottle. You put your bottle on it and about 1-2 seconds later it turns green and you go on with your life (and your bottle of Coke or whatever). Security in Japan is like 100 times faster than the security in America and I’m willing to bet it’s just as (in)efficient (though why they print you 4 freakin tickets for one plane ride is beyond me). I do like those little (as my friend dubbed them) Marilyn Monroe machines they have in America, where you go in and the shoot all kinds of puffs of air at your, they’re kinda nifty. They detect for chemicals I guess, though I don’t see them as being terribly efficient if said chemical is enclosed in a bottle or something…

It wasn’t a one in a bazillion luck shot. The rules back then allowed knives on the plane. As I recall at least on knife showed up at security and was allowed though since the rules allowed it. Air crews (and passengers) were taught not to resist. Nobody thought anyone would be intent on making a plane into a missile.
As a very frequent flier, I can tell you that anyone attempting a hijack today would be facing a plane load of very pissed of passengers. Passengers who think they are going to die anyway, so they might as well take a terrorist or two with them.