On September 11, 2001, about 20 men changed the rules. A little later in the day, several passengers changed them again. This holiday, sadly, another extremist tried to change them back. That passenger on Delta flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit tried to detonate an explosive when the aircraft was over the city of Detroit. From the reports I’ve read, he had the explosive liquids strapped to his legs somehow and was in the process of trying to mix them when at least one other passenger stopped him.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve flown through the Amsterdam airport. When I was there last, I stayed in international concourse but went through security twice between my JFK and Frankfurt flights. Subsequent visits to the airport were similar. The place was amazingly secure and, still, this man was able to board his Delta flight with these dangerous substances on his person. I’m pretty astounded, I have to tell you.
We, as the traveling public, are partly responsible for weapons that end up on airplanes. Before you get too torqued up, I really wish that I could take you back to airport security checkpoints on September 10, 2001, where you would see the abuse people like you and me heaped upon the heads of the screeners, who were making barely over minimum wage and were subjected to consistent rude behavior. People joked about “the bomb in my bag.” People demanded that they be allowed to bring some banned item through with them. People demanded exceptions.
The rules were clear and, yet, I caught passengers several times in my career trying to board the aircraft with banned items. Once, man approached the aircraft with what appeared to be an artist’s box. When the man handed it to me gate check, I detected the strong, particular odor of turpentine. I asked the man about it and he said that, yes, he did have turpentine in the box. He was an artist and that box contained the tools of his trade and he would not allow them to go through the baggage system. He had adamantly insisted to the people in security that he must carry the box on the aircraft with him. And they let him. They allowed him to board the aircraft with all the makings of a Molotov cocktail because he had, basically, yelled loudly enough. To be honest, it never even occurred to him that his box was a bomb with pretty colors.
Another man approached the gate holding a driver. I asked how it was that he came to have that golf club inside security. He told me that it was a $200 driver and that there was no way he was putting it through the baggage system to be mangled. As politely as I could, I countered that there was no way he was boarding my aircraft with it. It was a weapon, had he never seen Parry Mason?
We, as the traveling public, too often had this mentality – the rules applied to everyone but us. We wanted to carry our stuff with us; so, we made scenes at security. After hundreds of these scenes a month, security screeners got worn down. Hey, they’re human. They got tired of the abuse; so, they stopped fighting back. They let us win and look what happened.
Total aircraft security means body scans, Tyveck suits, no carry-on or checked luggage. It means that we give up everything, trying to guarantee safety on air mass-transit. Can you imagine? Planes full of people who look like Oompa Loompas (minus the green hair and orange skin)? Can you see this working at all? I can’t.
As the stakes get higher and security necessarily a bigger hassle, what I can see is more people investigating air charter options. The TSA still defines allowable items; but, people know who they’re traveling with, both in terms of other passengers and even flight crews.
So, what do you want – greater security when you fly? What are you willing to put up with to get it -Tyvek suits or a little bigger price tag for a private option?