Bombs Don't Take Down Airliners -- People Take Down Airliners

After a refreshing respite, we're now being subjected to a new round of presidential speeches, this time related to the Christmas bomber. The lectures are long on verbal bravado, stern gazes, and the now-clichéd "let me be clear." Surprisingly lacking is the obligatory increased funding or new government entity to fix the problem. The "President's Directive on corrective actions" includes sweeping statements with strong language that directs several organizations to do a better job, which will undoubtedly result in reinforcement and expansion of the current protocols. Unfortunately, the current protocols are misdirected.

Anyone who has flown since 9/11 knows the effects of airline terrorism on airport security -- remove the shoes and belt, laptops in the bin, no liquids, and on and on. Everyone is subjected to these protocols. Businessmen, mothers of toddlers, toddlers themselves, grandmothers, foreigners, citizens -- we all endure the same drill. Most amusing are the "reaction checks." After 9/11, sharp blades were the rage (the rage of airport screeners' scrutiny, that is). After the shoe bomber it was shoes, then it was the 3oz. limit on liquids -- as if 2.5 oz. of liquid is safe, but 3.5 oz. is a threat. Thankfully, the Christmas bomber incident may not result in a new "reaction check," as inspection of the mid-underpants area may not be well-received.  

These checks are always too little, too late, like the football defense that covers for the blitz immediately after the blitz occurs. It's a game of cat-and-mouse with a fast, nimble mouse and a leviathan cat. The mouse will eat well today and also tomorrow, when it will simply enter the kitchen through a different hole.

The airport screening that needs to occur is currently off-limits, the casualty of an out-of-control, politically correct mentality. Virtually every air traveler with common sense knows what needs to happen. If all passengers on the Christmas flight had had the opportunity to look around the aircraft or lounge at their fellow travelers to identify anyone who should undergo security scrutiny, I suggest that the bombing attempt would likely have been prevented. Couple that with analysis of the peculiar circumstances of a one-way ticket paid for in cash, with no luggage, and the likelihood of thwarting the attack would multiply. The clear result of political correctness in airline security is an increase in undetected terrorist attacks. In this case, political correctness kills.

The elephant in the room remains. Some call it profiling, but "common sense" seems like a better description. With the application of common sense, every airline terrorist in the last decade would likely have been identified for scrutiny. In engineering, we constantly apply the 80/20 rule. With a little common sense, the 20% of travelers who warrant 80% of the attention could readily be identified and scrutinized accordingly, with little cost or inconvenience.

It's time to stop focusing on egalitarian rules that are blindly applied to all travelers and instead include common sense and discretion in the process.  The Caucasian grandmother traveling with a single mom and toddlers may not need a full body pat-down if the metal detector beeps due to a replacement knee. But a young Nigerian male, traveling alone, with a one-way ticket and no luggage -- hmmmm...what do you think? This may be offensive to some, and unfortunately an inconvenience to many innocent foreigners who fly. But airline travel is a privilege, not a right. Anyone who wishes to travel by commercial airline must abide by the rules to participate, just like drivers must acquire a license and follow the rules of the road.

It's time to stop focusing on the tools of terror and redirect our attention to the actors. Bombs and knives certainly do not belong on airplanes, but these objects are not the threat. People are the threat, and it's time to acknowledge that reality. Bombs don't take down airliners -- people take down airliners. Any security efforts that ignore this fact will be in vain.
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