Air travel security

The Brits are enforcing a no-carry-on rule through the weekend. It allows your passport, some medicines, and practically nothing else, in a clear plastic bag. It appears this applies to pockets as well. In the US, we’re not allowed any liquids on board, I guess until further notice

I think flying without liquids is a nuisance, as is having to check and wait for a bag even if it’s small enough to carry on, but a transatlantic or cross-country flight without a book, a laptop, or proper earphones and an iPod or something to play music on them, is a blood-chilling nightmare. Six hours listening to the “channels” in your armrest and reading the airline’s magazine? Yow.

The ban on electronics is probably overkill but understandable, but books? Magazines? A book is a low-tech object that can be X-rayed and riffled to confirm that it’s what it appears to be; a paperback without a hiding place between the spine and the jacket, all the more so. What’s up with that?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

19 thoughts on “Air travel security”

  1. Wasn't the 1994 plot to blow up Asian flights based on having some fabric soaked in explosive solution and then dried? Perhaps that explains the "no books" rule- any kind of paper cold carry the weapon. Of course, this can't continue- either airlines will have to start providing things like water and books for free (fat chance), people will stop flying, or we'll have to accept the fact that if you want to live your life in a way that makes it worthwhile, you have to stop pissing in your pants and accept the 0.000001% chance that someone might succeed in killing you. (And re: pissing in your pants, I'm just waiting for the announcement that there's a plot to make urine into an explosive and in-flight use of toilets will no longer be allowed.)

  2. Ammonium is produced in the body and excreted in the urine. Ammonium should not be mixed with a base as the reaction produces dangerous ammonia gas. Milk is a base. They are both allowed on planes.

  3. "we''ll have to accept the fact that if you want to live your life in a way that makes it worthwhile, you have to stop pissing in your pants and accept the 0.000001% chance that someone might succeed in killing you"
    Exactly how do "we" pass the fact that we have accepted this on to the powers that be. The issue is not what "we" want, it is what is our masters want. Meanwhile, unless the airline and tourism industries get their lobbying acts together and stop this shit, they won't be seeing any of my dollars again. As Michael says, who the fsck with a working brain is going to tolerate six hours of flight plus 3 hours of random waiting in lines in airports at either end without a book, an iPod or a computer?

  4. I would imagine that these new security measures, if they are instituted for any great length of time, will be far more devastating to the market for short flights than to long-distance flights. As annoying and inconvenient as waiting three hours to fly across the country in six hours will be, at least it will have the benefit of reducing a three or four day trip to a fraction of a single day. This is certainly more attractive than spending three hours waiting to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

  5. The thought of having to check my laptop fills me with dread. I might as well smash it with a hammer and throw it in the trash, just to save everyone involved a little time. Checking my other valuables wouldn't worry me as much. I expect that they'd all be long gone by the time my luggage rolls around to be on the other end of the flight.
    Not being able to bring liquids aboard is more than a nuisance for some people. As for me, the idea that I'd have to rely on the flight attendants to keep my hydrated on a long, dry flight is enough to make me give up on air travel for the time being.

  6. I'm not so sure that "we" have accepted the risks of living a normal life. You and I have accepted it, and most readers of this site, but I suspect if you took a poll most people would be just fine with such inconveniences because most people are very poor at weighing relative risks and costs. (Also, most people in the US never fly anywhere anyway- it's only those rich elite liberals who fly to France to eat their Brie.) I keep reading scary quotes, like one today from some woman in Montana who said, in effect (don't have the exact quote)- "As long as the terrorists are out there, it's fine if Bush listens to my phone calls."

  7. SP: It was horrible to hear idiots on TV and radio saying that they "felt" safer because of this nonsense.
    It's time to bring back the 4th Amendment.
    (Please note that said Amendment may not apply outside of the US.)

  8. What's up with any of it, really?
    In the 19th century, German philosophers, in the midst of enthusiasms for ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy, yawed on about the birth of tragedy and Apollonian (optimism) and Dionysian (pessimism) impulses underlying human will and creativity.
    What it all amounted to, was the realization that the first step toward competence was mastering fear, the willingness to face squarely the reality that one cannot control or anticipate everything, or even the most important and life-threatening things.
    The price of following leaders, who want to use fear for their own purposes, is that they, and the organizations they lead, cannot be competent. They will not assess what must be done rationally, because they cannot do so, without admitting the limits of their own power, a concession, which would rob fear of its political potency for them.
    Without such a frank acknowledgement of the limits of power in the face of fear, we are condemned to ritual behaviors, whether it is pointless sacrifices to the gods, or checking grandmothers at the airport for exploding shoes and shampoo.

  9. I have to say that all this is easier to think *before* your wife and child get blown up on a transatlantic flight by some asshole with nitroglycerin in his thermos.

  10. I have to say that all this is easier to think *before* your wife and child get blown up on a transatlantic flight by some asshole with nitroglycerin in his thermos.
    I'm sorry for your loss–when did this happen?

  11. "
    I have to say that all this is easier to think *before* your wife and child get blown up on a transatlantic flight by some asshole with nitroglycerin in his thermos.
    I completely agree. I was going to drive on the highway to the supermarket, then I started thinking about all the ways I could die a fiery death and decided to stay home instead. I may starve to death, but at least I'll be in control.

  12. If it were up to me, every airport would be sundered in two. One would be the current version. The other would take planes with El-Al style cockpit doors, more highly compensated attendants, and as much security as there is on a public bus: none. If you show up with a ticket, you hop on the plane. Saving a couple hours, minimum, per flight seems totally worth the risk to me.
    Then again, I ride the public buses, too. Clearly I am bent on self-destruction.

  13. You all are worried about not having enough water and books for those flights, but you think bush's base is such sheep that they will take any restrictions and love them? I've got news for you. Bush's base is *both* stupid, afraid, and also not going to stand for limitations on carry ons–I was at a party yesterday where blond waspy women of a certain age who travel frequently were lamenting the fact that they *weren't allowed to carry makeup* on board. They are convinced that the ismalofascists are out to get us because of their "love of death" but not only do we americans "love life" but we also *love our mostiurizers*. Bush had better decree that fair skinned women with lines aforming get a special dispensation or, when asked "if you are better off today than you were five years ago" they will answer "no" and pull the lever for the party that lets them touch up those wrinkles while flying.

  14. Even worse than an adult being bored for a few hours, be prepared for small children with no books, toys, snacks, drinks, crayons, markers, pencils, tv, video, or anything to keep them occupied.
    Oh, and be prepared for the time that they can't close the luggage compartement on the flight, so you sit on the runway in the steaming Haawiian sun for hours, and you don't have a thing to drink, and the child next to you is loosing it BIG TIME. Yes, this happened to me, but could bear it with water, books, etc on hand.
    Will be a cattle car in a few years.
    Hmm – what happens to those shops selling books & such on the far side of security. Does it now mean you can't even grab lunch while waiting for your plane? Or just can't bring the snack on the plane?

  15. I have a friend who's dealing with an 11-hour flight to the UK this weekend. I do not envy her.

  16. oh no. you might have to put down the massproduced braincandy for a couple of hours and have to actually TALK to someone. god, teh horroh.

  17. These are obviously temporary measures born out of a concern that they have not caught all the conspirators. They want zero risk of anyone smuggling any explosive in any form on board. These measures imply that they have reason to believe that a significant number of conspirators have not been caught or identified and are still intent on carrying out the plan. I expect that among the British security services there is a large minority that argued fiercely for shutting down trans-Atlantic air travel entirely, and this is the compromise that they have been forced to accept.

  18. 1. they will allow you to take on board books that you have bought in the depature lounge (and other items).
    2. I know 2 people who lost family in Lockerbie (I live in the UK and know many Americans– Lockerbie was a Pan Am flight) either on the ground or in the air. It's not a joke.
    It's not trivial to suggest that there is a threat, and the authorities had to take stern measures.
    Nor is it 'nanny state' or 'mollycoddling'. There is a realistic threat and we do not know that all of the conspirators have been arrested.

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