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Airline Security By Committee

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2001 by RDFollendoreIII

December 24, 2001

I happen to teach graduate level security engineering courses at a local university.  So in the spirit of this holiday season I thought that I might give everyone a piece of free advice about the subject.  Ignore the constant public commercials that are pushing you one way or the other.  Recognize it for what it is.  It is spin.  It is propaganda designed to make you feel more American for voting for their crazy ideas of threats and vulnerabilities that have always existed and will continue to exist even after every draconian measure that can be thought of has been exhausted. The danger has always been there and not one new threat or vulnerability has come about since 911. To live in this world takes bravery for danger is part of your birth.  As Winston Churchill once said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." What he meant by this was that we should be fearful of what fear does. 

As a private pilot, I know that traditionally the greatest threats to passengers have been the weather, and the people that drive the vehicles that take you where you want to go before and after you leave the airport.  The next greatest threat that a person flying on a commercial aircraft has to face are the people that normally fly the planes.  The third greatest threat are the folks that have badges and guns. The actual odds of actually getting hijacked on any given day are very very low because there are just not that many people who are absolute idiots without an ounce of morality.  On the other hand, it does seem that the odds of your bags getting destroyed or shipped to Afghanistan are very high because there are that many bag handlers who are absolute idiots without an ounce of morality.

Things have changed somewhat in the months since 911.  Now it may be your fellow passengers who are the greatest threat.  Some passengers are taking martial arts so that they can "go down fighting" as heroes.  Other passengers might be ex minimum wage border patrol police, now called the clandestine "sky marshals," cross trained in six weeks from detaining illegal Mexican fruit pickers to putting ten shots into your heart in less than seven seconds flat.  

On top of that, we have 18 year old part time soldiers with loaded machine guns  running around streets and lobbies at every incident.  Can anyone remember what happened with the freaked out National Guard troops at Kent State? Keep in mind, soldiers are not police. Soldiers are trained to kill, not take names and write tickets. The key word in Military Police is Military.  In today's armed forces the MPs are a military quick reaction force, not meter maids.  What happens when these kids are in a fearful situation, regardless if it is real or not? Who will they shoot?

Add the fact that jumpy airline pilots and stewardesses are getting electronic taser pistols and F16 fighters prepared to shoot your aircraft out of the air with guided missiles on command, and you have the reasons why I not only personally refuse to fly.  In fact, I refuse to go anywhere near a commercial airport these days.  

There is simply no trust out there.  The state of security is similar to what is called in the movies "a Mexican stand off." The authorities don't trust the fact that passengers don't have guns and bombs, and passengers with common sense don't trust the fact that the authorities do.  The reason why the passengers are not flying is that the situation has become too complex to be safe.  If this situation keeps up, it is a just matter of time before something serious happens, and it can be because of terrorism or well meaning accidents. 

Engineering by committee is what happens when everyone is in the act of engineering and what results is always an irrational, tangled, complex mess.  The simple fact is that the security engineers at airports across the nation have lost control of their jobs and are reacting to political pressures.  The people in charge of the airlines have forgotten that the number one duty of their industry is to provide service.  Security is just one part of the performance of the transportation service.  If the complete spectrum of service can not be handled within the airlines then the airlines are dinosaurs deserving to become extinct.  Because of the combination of fear and mistrust from mismanaged security practices, poor service and the airline industry's huge operational expense we are seeing that this extinction can take place quickly.  

Good security practices may eventually prevail, but it will not happen overnight.  It will take years before reason overtakes the fear that Churchill spoke of and the thrust for power that we have seen before by our leaders.  Things will change, but the result may or may not be a better system than what we had before.  So until the managers and the politicians get out of the business of security engineering, I suggest that you consider getting into your car and driving to where you want to go, at least unless our fearless leaders decide to screw that transportation system up too.

With this in mind, just think of this poem and consider yourself an American by giving some business to the average people that serve you along the highways instead of the rich fat cats that own the airlines.  

If you are going 

near or far,

forget the plane,

just drive your car.

(Think of it as by Berma Shave)

Merry Christmas 2001




Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved