So of course to go to work I have to get on a commercial flight. And to get on a commercial flight I have to go through security. Ahh, security. Everyone besides people who intend to blow up the airplane has an immediate keen interest in people who intend to blow up the airplane not being equipped to do so, but no one looks forward to undergoing security screening.
I'd like to give the TSA some credit today for addressing the public animosity in a blog, Evolution of Security. They publish information, stories, refutations and explanations. When the blog first went online it was inundated with comments and complaints. And I give the official bloggers more credit for acknowledging the problems and responding to the comments.
As I see it, security screening areas are unhappy places because:
- Passengers don't know the rules or refuse to follow them.
- The rules appear illogical, vary from place to place, and are inconsistently applied.
- Submitting to the screening process is irritating, time consuming and can be humiliating.
- Passengers are abusive towards screeners.
- Screeners do not treat passengers with respect.
People in airports are already under stress, because of time pressure, carrying heavy objects and important valuables in the presence of many strangers, the nature of the business that calls for them to travel, and for many a fear of getting on airplanes in the first place. Present these people with one more piece of stress, or simply an available human target, and many of them explode into defiance.
The vast majority of air travellers today are familiar with the basic rules: no weapons or explosives, liquids in one baggie, no jokes about threats, possessions all go through the X-Ray machine while the passenger walks through the scanner. In fact general hatred of security screening by frequent travellers probably has the effect of propagating this knowledge through the non-travelling population. And for the very ignorant, there are large signs and often people reiterating the rules as you approach security.
Passengers have to take responsibility for complying with the rules. Unfortunately many don't, and instead blame the screener for the confiscation of their precious sunblock. The way I see it, if I decide to take the risk of trying to carry my sunblock onboard in a 110 mL container, or if I am too lazy or forgetful to put it in my checked baggage, then I can hardly complain if the rule is enforced. If I were to say, "what? how can my sunblock be a threat to the airplane?" I'd be claiming to be an idiot.
This "how can you do this to elderly/innocent/handicapped/military personnel?" argument is a common one, but one that shows an innocence of the entire security mentality. To do good security you actually must believe that everyone is a threat. Bruce Schneier writes about the security mindset.
If the TSA were to assume everyone was a harmless and innocent passenger, they'd let everyone through with no questions or screening, and while that would be quicker, it wouldn't be screening. So instead they assume everyone wants to blow up the airplane, and it is their job to determine how you plan to do that, despite your innocent appearance. That is, there's nothing to stop you from having an artificial hip AND a gun. If grey-haired ladies with a limp were discovered to get a free pass, then anyone who wanted to defeat security would have a grey-haired lady limp it through the scanner for them.
They are aware that the scanning is irritating and not all that effective and are trying to make it more efficient and effective, with devices like the "naked" scanner. I'm not all that concerned about it, and I freaked out when they took my fingerprint at Disney World. I think that Americans are more body-shy than people of many other nations. Certainly more than Europeans. Canadians vary a lot coast to coast in this respect, with the Southern Ontarians being the biggest prudes.
The inconvenience of the security procedure will decrease as the facilities begin to be designed around having to take off your shoes and unpack your toothpaste and laptop. The inconsistency will always be with us, but a little respect in both directions helps with that. I'll come back to respect tomorrow.