I Have Little to Add to Recent TSA Commentary

I had only just been joking about the shoe carnival at checkpoints, the unfortunate legacy of ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid.  Thank goodness he wasn’t the ‘pants bomber’ was my joke, or we’d all have to take off our pants at security.

So it’s cruel irony that the December 25th failed attempt has become known alternately as the pants bomber and the crotch bomber.

TSA has been roundly criticized, no mocked is more like it, for their silly response to last week’s events.  Somehow we need extra security measures on flights into the U.S. because somehow Amsterdam’s security is less thorough than that at US airport, or perhaps because there aren’t already terrorists in the U.S. and so we have to keep all would-be bombers from staying warm with blankets.  And if they’re really bored while flying due to lack of inflight entertainment they won’t want to fly great distances to harm us.

I flew yesterday from a small airport that has always had crazy security lines.  They use one gate and don’t let passengers into the gate area until about 45 minutes prior to flight.  They have all the TSA-issued propoganda signs up, and signs about different lanes for expert travelers, casual travelers and families — even though there’s only one line and one x-ray machine.  This airport has long required everyone to take of their belts, and is the only place I’ve been required to take out my freedom baggie rather than just having my liquids in them and ignored by screeners.  And since very few people who have flown since 9/11 actually pass through this airport, the extended screening process is a nightmare.  But it was no different yesterday than it has been in the past few months.

Scott McCartney makes sense on this issue.

[T]here’s a difference between unpredictable and silly. Rules have to actually deter terrorism, not simply leave passengers cold and running for bathrooms when deplaning.

Already many of the stupidest rules are being relaxed (“left to the discretion of the pilots”), a tacit admission that the TSA just felt the need to ‘do something’ because it couldn’t be seen as complacent, but that ‘something’ was indeed silly and they realize it.

I hesitate to refer to the Christmas Day terrorist wannabe as the pants bomber because I don’t want the TSA requiring me to take off my pants at the checkpoint. But it’s sheer incompetence that this individual was on terrorist watchlists but not the no fly list, and yet we all have to provide our names matching passports with dates of birth and gender now just to fly domstically. And ultimately the failure of our entire approach to security comes from (a) our focus on finding bad things rather than bad people, (b) our obsession with security theatre rules that have little to do with actual security, like checking IDs and throwing away water into bins next to checkpoints.

Ultimately though many pixels are being spilled on the December 25 incident and the silly things the government is doing that offer little in extra protection. And I suppose I have little original to contribute here. So you won’t be hearing much, and certainly not much more than usual, from me on these issues.

Update: When the ‘nothing on your lap’ rule came out for the last hour of flights headed to the US, I joked “What about lap babies?” According to this AP piece, lap babies would actually have been banned by TSA rules for that last hour of flight. This Flyertalk thread offers suggestions on what to do with the babies:

Babies must remain in the overhead bin. …

Or in checked luggage. Just don’t forget to puncture a few holes. ..

Here is what I do with my baby:

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. it’s sheer incompetence that this individual was on terrorist watchlists but not the no fly list

    I disagree. The watchlist is huge and generates enormous numbers of mismatches/false positives. You don’t want everybody on that list banned from flying.

    The lists have separate functions, and need to be kept separate. Dec. 25 Boy should have been given a little extra Secondary Search Love at AMS — that’s all.

  2. I get padded down at airports on a regular basis. Looking at the pictures of the crotch bomb, I have my doubts that this sort of device would have been found with the standard TSA pad-down. Then again, maybe in the future I’ll just face more invasive searches. 🙁

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