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Flying Soon? Have Fun with That

December 27th, 2009, 05:12 am admin Leave a comment Go to comments

In the wake of 9/11, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a New Yorker article on the history of hijackings (PDF), concluding:

Can we close the loopholes that led to the September 11th attack? Logistically, an all-encompassing security system is probably impossible. A new safety protocol that adds thirty seconds to the check-in time of every passenger would add more than three hours to the preparation time for a 747, assuming that there are no additional checkpoints. Reforms that further encumber the country’s already overstressed air-traffic system are hardly reforms; they are self-inflicted wounds.

The history Gladwell had detailed is one in which, repeatedly, security procedures on air travel had addressed the most recent crime or attempted crime, always looking backward and always being evaded by the next round of hijackers.

And, despite all the improvements in airport security, the percentage of terrorist hijackings foiled by airport security in the years between 1987 and 1996 was at its lowest point in thirty years. Airport-security measures have simply chased out the amateurs and left the clever and the audacious. “A look at the history of attacks on commercial aviation reveals that new terrorist methods of attack have virtually never been foreseen by security authorities,” the Israeli terrorism expert Ariel Merari writes, in the recent book “Aviation Terrorism and Security.”

In the wake of Christmas Day’s failed terrorism attempt, the TSA is self-inflicting a few more wounds. The upshot is that air travel is getting a whole lot more miserable for those who are still willing to endure it.

According to a statement posted Saturday morning on Air Canada’s Web site, the Transportation Security Administration will severely limit the behavior of both passengers and crew during flights in United States airspace — restricting movement in the final hour of flight. Late Saturday morning, the T.S.A. had not yet included this new information on its own Web site.

“Among other things,” the statement in Air Canada’s Web site read, “during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps.”

Also, only one carry-on item may be allowed, it’s reported.

So, to recap. Improvements in airport security have historically not worked. Yet, in response to a failed terrorism attempt, a struggling industry in a struggling economy, and the poor saps stuck as its customers, will have to deal with more restrictions imposed not because there’s any empirical support for their effectiveness, but so the TSA can appear to be Vigilant and Responsive.

If some terrorist organization wanted to change its stated goals to killing the US airline industry, they could probably declare victory relatively soon.

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