Airport Security Reports: 'Where Are the Airlines?'

Really, I'm not trying to overdo this, but reports keep flowing in

1) This is being sent from the United/Air New Zealand holding area at Sydney airport, waiting for the flight to Los Angeles. Sydney airport security system: simple metal detector, shoes kept on, no pat down of any sort. Background anxiety: often at the last minute, there's an extra security surprise inspection for passengers on flights to the US. Will know one way or another soon.

2) Just now, from a Westerner who travels throughout China:

>> I travel fairly often within China, and I've NEVER been ordered to take off clothing or otherwise been humiliated by security personnel. At the Guiyang airport security opened my bag, took out a large knife and bottle of liquor, and only said " You'll have to check this bag." . No threats of prison, no charges.

For me at least travel in China is much more pleasant than in the US, because I don't have to deal with surly prison guards.<<

2A) Another Western traveler in China reports:

>>China does pat downs, usually by attractive twentysomething female officers, and as far as I know, no one complains. The TSA should study this approach.<<

3) Recently I asked rhetorically where was the public figure to speak up for the "liberty" side of the liberty-v-security balance. A reader suggests this answer (which may in part explain where there aren't more figures taking that side):

>>Not sure where he stood on this issue, but in general the answer to who asks the tough questions others don't is (through the lame duck session) Russ Feingold, of course- on the Patriot Act, the Afghanistan war, and many other issues. So sad he's been voted out. Can't think of who can replace him. Hope he gets a position where he's still have a public voice.<<

4) Recently I quoted an Army staff sergeant in Afghanistan who said that US military policy outlawed in Afghanistan the kind of intrusive searches now routine at US airports. In response a reader writes:

>>Although I agree with the sentiments of the US Army staff sergeant, I take issue with his crack in the last sentence about "the current administration" [being at fault].

The excesses of the TSA have been with us since its formation under George W Bush.  And civil libertarians have been pointing them out all along.  But only in the last couple of years have conservatives (as I assume most Army staff sergeants are) begun to take notice and criticize the policies of the global war on terror -- I count among these policies the tendency to deficit-finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.<<

I don't know whether that's a fair point about the staff sergeant who wrote in. In general it's true that traditional conservatives have been slow to rouse on the excesses of the post-9/11 security state.

 5) I mentioned recently Patrick Smith's powerful "Ask the Pilot" column about the irrationality of our airport security approach. He just sent a message expanding on the basic logic of his argument -- and unsustainable illogic of the TSA strategy. The scanners and "enhanced" pat-downs are symptoms, which may be drawing attention to a more fundamental problem. Emphasis added:

>>Yes, the scanners raise health issues and some very important privacy issues, as do the pat-downs. But no less importantly, they are part of what has become an unsustainable security strategy: that is, treating each and ever passenger, from an infant children to uniformed crewmembers, as potential terrorists, and attempting to inspect their bodies and belongings for each and every possible weapon. This simply isn't a realistic approach in a country where more than two million people fly daily.

The body scanners are part of an arms race. First came Richard Reid and so we all need to take our shoes off; then came the underwear bomber and so now we're body-scanned and groped? What might be next? We cannot protect ourselves from every conceivable threat, and we need to acknowledge that while coming up with a strategy that is efficient, reasonable, and effective, and in tune with the hierarchy of threat. What we have right now is none of those things. We are literally strip-searching the entire flying public, from preschoolers to pilots, and rifling through their bags for things -- knives and scissors -- that are harmless in the first place. All of this while freight from overseas goes uninspected for bombs and explosives.

And again, where are the airlines? When TSA begins to drive away customers, they'll react, is the stock answer. I would argue that it already does drive away customers (certainly if the emails I receive are any indication), but what of those it "merely" makes angry? There's something wrong with a business model that accepts angry and harassed customers as an acceptable option to no customers at all.<<
6) If you're looking for kilts that will make you feel extra-manly as you go through the pat-down procedure, this is the place to do your shopping. Thanks to BW for this.

I'll try to let this alone for a little while now.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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