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Osama’s Gone. Can We Relax Airport Security?

The Department of Homeland Security remains on heightened alert after the death of Osama bin Laden. That’s reassuring as most of their valiant security efforts go unseen by ordinary travelers. But what about those other security measures? Pay Dirt is thinking of the rules that force you to take off your shoes and pad through the metal detector with a hole in your socks or, worse, carry a bottle of Rogaine through security in a clear plastic bag.


An increasing number of airline passengers are exasperated (and embarrassed) by rules requiring them to take off their shoes and limit carry-on liquid containers to 3.4 ounces in clear plastic bags. George Hobica, creator of Airfarewatchdog.com, is more concerned about the screening of airport staff: “What will be next? Will people have to take off all their clothes? If somebody wanted to sneak something onboard they will.”

Nicholas Kimball, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, says these “intelligence-driven layers of security” are there for good reason. “In combination, they create a stronger, more formidable system,” he says. He cites the European Union, which last week deferred lifting a ban on carry-on liquids. The 3.4 ounce per-bottle limit either points to an exacting science that we could never hope to understand or a somewhat more arbitrary calculation.

Another puzzle: the rules have exceptions: baby formula, breast milk and juice if a baby or small child is traveling, plus all prescription and over-the-counter medications like petroleum jelly and eye drops. Security analyst Bruce Schneier says he has taken 14-ounce bottles of contact-lens saline solution through security. “I told them it was saline and they said it was okay. The liquid rule doesn’t do any good. It’s dumb, dumb, dumb.”

If you think that’s harsh,  Salon.com columnist Patrick Smith calls the liquid rule a “farce.” What makes his criticism all the more surprising: Smith happens to be an airline pilot. He writes: “Are we looking for liquids, or are we looking for explosives? A search for the former is not a de facto search for the latter. Not the way we’ve been doing it,” adding, “What ‘airport security’ really means is stopping terrorists in the planning stage, long before they reach the terminal.”

Do you think the liquid and take-off-your-shoes airport security rules really work?


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    • I don’t think Social Security will survive becsaue the US congress pretty much has trash the dollar to weasel out of it’s medicare and medicaid obligations.There is no way they will cut the nominal benefits, but if it costs $700 a day for a nursing home and the Medicare reimbursement is only $200 a day, and congress has no more money to allocate…You can just imagine what is going to happen to hospitals and nursing homes during the transition. I am guessing they will have a tough choice to go bankrupt, or somehow make their charity (medicare) cases “disappear”.Social Security may nominally remain, but that $1500 benefit will have no more than 20% of it’s current buying power. Maybe none, if we end up with full hyperinflation.It kind of pisses me off that the few public officials that out there that talk about future medicare obligations either stop at saying the current situation is unsustainable, or actually pretend that congress is going to select one of the options on the “Menu of pain” rather than just inflate away those obligations. There is no way congress will raise taxes by 30% and simultaneously cut entitlement benefits by 50%. No way. 51% of congressmen vote to be thrown out of office???? HAHAHAHA!PS I’m 43, technically a baby boomer (barely), but we have small kids and so have more in common with most genXer’s.

    • Let’s say for the sake of argument that a security bypass procedure were put in place. Now, instead of being forced to go through the “unnecessary” screening you “safely” board your plane. You went through a background check and have an impeccable traveling history.
      Do you seriously think a terrorist organization can not put a person in place with no criminal background, that doesn’t “look” muslim? That’s how all “intelligent” people perceive that terrorists look, right?

    • Trying to find a terrorist amid the flood of legitimate passengers is exactly like trying to find a needle in a haystack. So what are we doing wrong? We’re focusing on the haystack, not the needle. We think we can reliably find the needle by looking at every piece of hay in the haystack. Most countries, notably free of the industrial, brute-force mentality typical of Americans, focus on the needle. The result? Their systems are far less intrusive, far more effective, and far more reflective of a genuine commitment to serving the public well instead of riding roughshod on the public in the spurious name of the public’s own good.

    • I used to think TSA measures were silly. Then they put me through one of their new scanning machines, and now I feel so much better about everything. I love Big Brother!

      OK, seriously: Once a given measure is in place – shoes, liquids, etc. – it requires enormous courage for any official to end it, because any resulting breach would likely end his career. So the restrictions perform like ratchets: they can be easily engaged but not disengaged.

      Ridicule is the only antidote; bureacrats really do hate it.

    • The liquids-and-gels ban is exasperating and pointless. There’s no way that a 6 ounce sealed blueberry yogurt could possibly pose a danger to passengers. Nor could a clear plastic bottle of spring water represent a risk–worst case, I can take a swig of it to prove it is not nitroglycerin or whatever the TSA imagines it to be.

      If these xray and imaging machines are so good, why do we need go remove all hats, all sweaters, everything out of pockets including plastic combs and boarding passes? It’s a theater of the absurd, in which every paranoid delusion of some clueless security monkey within the TSA’s incompetent bureaucracy must be addressed.

      Then there’s the quality of the TSA employees, most of whom appear not to have a high level of education or training. Their uniforms are smart, but their brains are not.

      A friend who recently returned from China told me that when going through their airport security over there, it felt like he was in a free and open society, and when he came back to our domestic airports it felt like an authoritarian state.

      I do not feel secure going through an American airport, and I worry that unionization of the TSA workers will do little to improve things–undoubtedly it will cost us all a lot more money, though.

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.