Next Wednesday, I will be flying home to spend Thanksgiving with my parents. To do so, I will pack tiny little bottles of liquids into a plastic bag, take off my shoes, coat and belt to go through the metal detectors, take my laptop out of my bag, and possibly be patted down by a bored TSA agent.
Airline security has become, to me, almost a parody of itself. Yes, there is a need for security on planes. I don’t disagree with that. But I feel that most of the steps we take to fly are just steps to make us think we’re safe, and they don’t actually do anything. I’m sure that a very clever terrorist could figure out a way around most of them.
For instance, several major airports around the world now employ full-body scanners. These scanners can see through your clothes to see if you have any explosives strapped to your body. Sounds good, right? We’ll catch the next terrorist this way! But think of this: These scanners can’t see inside the body. So if someone was to smuggle a banned object inside his or her body and was randomly selected to be scanned, he or she could get through.
So what’s the point? We might catch the terrorist dumb enough not to Google the limitations of body scanners, but the smarter terrorist (the one who is arguably more dangerous) gets through. Meanwhile, your grandmother is subjected to a full body scan, which effectively amounts to taking a naked picture of her. And, should she object to the scan, she would be patted down in very sensitive areas.
That isn’t to say security measures are unnecessary. I am definitely in favor of metal detectors and X-rays of carry-on luggage. But I find that randomly selecting people to be subjected to extra screening can’t possibly be effective. What are the chances that the nefarious individuals who actually intend to cause harm on a plane will be screened? Of the millions of people who fly through American airports each year, how many of those are terrorists? And how do we determine whom to screen? To be fair, it should be a randomly selected group of people. But then I’m reminded of the time when my father, a retired captain in the Navy, was patted down at the airport, even after showing his military ID.
A random sampling of the population is probably not the most effective way to go about screening passengers. But there is no way to determine by sight who is a terrorist and who isn’t. The hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, were of Middle Eastern descent, but Timothy McVeigh was Christian and white. The color of someone’s skin, or what religion they are or what clothes they are wearing does not indicate whether they want to blow their flight to smithereens.
So it comes down to this: Random screening isn’t effective, but there’s no way to pick out the terrorists (and if there were, that would probably be cheaper and more effective than full-body scans, anyway). Full-body scans are not, in my opinion, going to make flying any safer. I’m not saying I have the answers. But there are issues with airport security, and we as a country need to figure out a way to make flying safer and more efficient, while saving poor Grandma from a pat-down.