#282 – Dick Bernard: Inducing Hysteria: some thoughts on Air (and other) "security"

I write this on the afternoon of Thanksgiving eve, 2010. I’ve heard that this day is the heaviest air travel day in the U.S. I have also heard that Thanksgiving Day itself is the lightest travel day. At this writing I don’t know whether/if there have been slowdowns or many, if any, protests. All I know, sitting here in suburban St. Paul MN on a chilly late afternoon, is that today may be a miserable day for ground transportation here.
The TSA flap seems to catch the wave of we Americans tendency towards over-simplification; as well as our “chicken little” “sky is falling” tendency: to expand little problems into earth shaking scenarios. It is very easy to induce near-hysteria and/or outrage in us.
I wrote yesterday about our recent every benign experience with TSA and air security generally. We are infrequent fliers: the last time in an airplane was nearly two years ago. We might be a somewhat average air traveler. Somewhere lurks that data.
I’ve thought back, today, about aspects of my own flight history: the first time in a jet aircraft, 1962 or so – a soldier-passenger flying in a military tanker/transport which was a lot like flying inside a cigar with no windows to give any perspective. In a word, terrifying.
I was thinking, this afternoon, about a certain flight from Minneapolis to Portland OR in June of 1973. My employer had chartered a Northwest Airliner, and we flew as a group. The plane was full, as I recall. At some point in the flight, the pilot and co-pilot opened the door to the cockpit and allowed us to come up and take a look at the business end of the aircraft. Nobody was allowed to “take the wheel”, but I don’t know of anyone who was skittish about the casualness either.
It was years earlier – 1961 – that the first sky-jacking of an aircraft occurred over the U.S. Some folks got a free flight to Cuba….
We’re long past the days when a person could walk in off the street and greet someone getting off the plane.
Now we’re where we’re at, and terrorists have to be laughing at us. (Our only ‘incident’ on check-in at Minneapolis a week ago was the scan of my luggage found a small (8 oz) bottle of Listerine mouth wash I had simply overlooked as a potential problem. It was confiscated – politely – and thrown out.)
Another piece of data I heard recently is that on an average day there are 2,000,000 air travelers in the United States. This means that only one of every 150 people in the U.S. is in the air on any particular day. It also means that over 300,000,000 of us are not even in the air.
I don’t mean to minimize the potential problem but with that many people in the air, it is absolutely impossible to assure absolute safety regardless of the means used.
It is an absolute certainty that future incidents will occur, some very serious. And I would concede that prudence at airports is warranted.
But sometimes it can get to be ridiculous.
As I’ve watched and read the “heavy-breathing” on this issue I see focus on an infinitesimal number of potential abuses of the system. It will be interesting to watch the nightly news in a few minutes to see how Thanksgiving eve traffic is going; how many protestors actually tried to protest.
My guess is that there will be few problems, as many of these caused by passengers as by the harried and harassed TSA agents who are, basically, just doing what they are supposed to do – assure reasonable safety.
We need to get, and keep, perspective.
Happy Thanksgiving.