Why Must I Show ID at the Airport?

Airline Safety

[written 1-24-03]

Well, the obvious answer is to make sure that I’m not a terrorist intending to crash the plane or some such. But wouldn’t a better strategy be to make sure that I didn’t bring anything onto the plane that I could use to crash the plane? Isn’t that what those slow and invasive X-ray and body search lines already do at the airport?

Let’s say Usama Bin Ladin’s brother walks into Newark Airport on his way to LA. Of course, the feds might be interested in asking about his brother, but if he isn’t carrying anything dangerous (not even dreaded nail clippers), then why -shouldn’t- he be let on the plane? If he was worried about being detained by the police merely for his travel plans, he could take a bus, train or (most securely of all) a private car. Of course, if he had a bomb in his luggage, he should be arrested, but if the government has nothing on a person, they should let him go about his business!

You want airline safety? Here are some suggestions.

* Install those controversial bullet-proof cockpit doors in American planes. You know, there isn’t actually any real controversy about them except for what they cost the airline to install, which is about $50k per plane. That’s 1 quarter of 1 percent of the cost of a 747. reference. They would have prevented the 9/11/01 disaster.
* Fix the US airline scheduling system so there is a higher on-time percentage… and when they’re not on-time, the passengers should know about it! I saw a congressional hearing on CPAN in 2002 where a news reporter had access to the current FAA radar. They showed up at the airport and were told that the plane would arrive 30 minutes late. But a quick check on the radar (viewed by a layman-reporter) showed the plane was going to be 2 hrs late. Guess when the plane showed up? This scenario repeats itself 100 times per day, every day, week after week, year after year. And it wouldn’t take too much to fix it. Oh wait, this isn’t a safety issue… we were talking about safety issues. Well, dammit, it’s my rant and I’ll scream about what I want to!
* Improve the checking system. Have you ever heard of someone getting killed by toenail clippers? EVER? Ok, I’ll even give that to you…… then how about you force passengers to put their (deadly!) toenail clippers in the plane’s safe?
* Train more dogs to sniff for bombs in luggage. Getting machines to do it is good too, but they’re very expensive ($1 mil each), slow, and error prone. And dogs make good pets. (then I wonder, what if a bomber encases their explosives in glass. I’ll bet I could smuggle a firecracker in a sealed test tube in my luggage….. No, I’d rather not make that bet with you.
* Install non-disable-able auto-pilot systems in planes. If the pilot pushes a panic button, the auto-pilot takes control and doesn’t let go until just shy of the airport. A hijacker is less likely to take a plane if it won’t go where he demands it to, not even at gun-point. This might have prevented the 9/11/01 disaster.

The original inspiration for this rant comes from John Gilmore’s “Free to Travel” site. I highly recommend you check it out. He is really out there on the libertarian cutting edge. He is currently (as of January 18th, 2003) in the middle of an important lawsuit whereby he refused to show his ID at an airport before boarding a plane. He demanded to know the law that required it… and of course the airport attendants couldn’t quote one because there isn’t one. I’ve said before that I wouldn’t want to live in a “hard” libertarian’s world but the examples hard libertarians present are very important. I want to get the bad guys just as much as you do, but it has to be done in such a way that we don’t create a place in our own government that breeds bad guys.

I’m very worried that this terrorism thing is going to spawn a new Mccarthyism in America. To a small extent, it already has and it’s on track for getting much worse. Just look where we’ve come

* Department of Homeland Security (doesn’t it remind you of Babylon 5’s Nightwatch, complete with xenophobic potentate!) As a side note, you may want to read J. Michael Straczynski’s comments on the Point of No Return episode of Babylon 5.
* The Patriot Act (good b/c it cuts out some gov. red tape, bad b/c appropriate checks and balances (like search warrants!) are often removed)
* new (unconstitutional) travel monitoring could easily become travel restrictions.
* Everyone’s reactionary “for God and Country” attitude. See my God Bless America Rant.

Here’s funny… well, not so funny… snippet from an article I read recently. I’m 100% in agreement with this guy.

Taken from Airport Insecurity by Tim O’Brien

A few weeks ago I found myself at the Tampa airport more than four hours ahead of the scheduled departure time for my return flight to Detroit. After checking my luggage through, I went in search of one of those temporary lockers to safely stow my two cumbersome carry-ons until boarding time. After ten or fifteen minutes of wandering through various wings and levels of the terminal, I finally asked a security guard where I might find the self-serve lockers.

“Oh, we don’t have those anymore,” he answered.

“What?” I was incredulous. “Why not?”

“Terrorism,” he responded matter-of-factly.

“Terrorism?” I asked innocently. “Was there a terrorist incident here?” I continued, feigning naivete.

A look of puzzlement spread over his face. “Well, no.” This was clearly the first time that it ever even occurred to him that the question might be relevant. “But,” he added triumphantly, “someone might put a bomb in one of those lockers.”

“Right,” I said with barely concealed exasperation. “Tell me, has anyone ever put a bomb at any airport anywhere in the United States?”

Just as he was beginning to get the hapless expression of someone unavoidably confronted by his own unthinking assumptions I decided to let him off the hook. Mumbling something about the fact that there was, on the other hand, someone standing right in front of him with an obvious need for a temporary locker, I took my discomforting questions and my carry-on luggage and went in quest of some place to while away the next four hours.

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