September 28, 2004

Look Out for the Average Airline Passenger -- We're Armed and Dangerous!

One of the advantages of having a blog is the ability to raise our collective consciousness through analysis and discussion. Today I'd like to try to influence some change. Read this news story about an unfortunate 52-year old special education teacher first, before the rest of this post. It'll make a lot more sense, trust me.

I rarely ever post my indignation at something, but this one just hit closer to home. Just a few weeks ago on my way to LawNet 2004, I had an incident where I packed my shaving kit in the wrong suitcase. I was in a hurry, and I completely forgot I left my tiny mustache-trimmer scissors in my kit, which was in my carry on pullman. Lucky for me, the security person was very astute (I'm sure they see this one all the time) and simply gave me the option to have her throw it away. No problem, I needed a new one anyway. I'm just incredibly glad it wasn't a weighted bookmark, or this lawyer would've needed a lawyer.

Is it getting to the point where we just shouldn't bring anything onboard an airplane any more, not even ourselves? "They probably felt that this item looked fairly dangerous." Well, I could certainly say that of a number of people I've seen on my flights, and much that we bring aboard.

So where do we draw the line? A CD's or DVD's sharp edge (especially if sharpened on purpose) could be used against someone's throat, just like the box knives used on 9/11. A CD player could be used as a well-aimed blunt frisbee to take out a pilot at 20 feet. A good-sized laptop over the head could render someone unconscious. The cord on a set of official airline-issued headphones could be used for strangulation. Yet all of these are allowed onboard, and the latter is even supplied by the airline.

Think that business professionals are always polite? Try sitting on the runway in Phoenix for over an hour or two without air conditioning, and then see if you have the same answer. I'm sure that 52-year old special ed teacher looked real dangerous with her bookmark. My apologies for the added sarcasm, as I'm intentionally wording this a bit on the extreme side to make a point. However, consider this: I've seen the headphone cord being mentioned as a security issue not too long after 9/11, and I believe it was even used in this manner in one of the James Bond films. So it's not a novel idea nor a stretch of the imagination.

Yes, someone could have relieved her of her weighted bookmark and used it as a weapon. Or she could have been a mole for a terrorist group. Or perhaps I'll win the lottery this week and retire. I don't have a problem with security confiscating a potentially dangerous item -- that's their job. I'm just glad to read the charges against her should be dropped soon.

Meanwhile, of course, we're all reading how many traditional weapons and explosives are easily smuggled aboard. Yes we need security. But can we get back to the business of catching the bad guys, and stop picking on the little guy just to justify security jobs and avoid "poor performance" reports? We need well-trained security personnel, not paranoia. Couldn't the security person just have confiscated the bookmark for later review? Or just thrown it away? I've seen courthouses do this when screening people and discovering pocket knives, manicure sets, etc. in people's pockets. The vast majority of us are good people who just forget it's there. I realize it can be difficult to draw the line, and if it was a handgun, then I would definitely want to see the person hauled off in cuffs.

Believe it or not, I'm usually a proponent of personal accountability. With that said, it probably never even occurred to the teacher that this bookmark had a potential to be used as a weapon. So if all these nefarious alternative uses of house goods never occur to people, then how can they possibly avoid this from happening to them even if they wanted to?

I'll be the first to say I don't have all the answers, but we need to begin asking questions. I, for one, believe we need some level of reform in airport security. Otherwise, the next story could be about one of us -- while the real weapons are slipping by right under their noses.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
Posted by Jeff Beard

Exactly. So where do we draw the line as to what's dangerous and what's not? Between mere confiscation of the item and prosecution?

I felt this incident with the teacher crossed far over the line. Meanwhile, the reports tell us the heavy duty weapons are getting onboard right under their noses. I'm glad to see increased security since 9/11 but the present airport security environment still doesn't give me any warm fuzzies.

Posted by: Jeff Beard at September 29, 2004 01:06 AM

Hell, a Bic pen can be used as a stiletto in a pinch.

Posted by: yclipse at September 27, 2004 10:27 PM