TERRORISM, TWEEZERS, AND TERMINAL MADNESS: An Essay On Security

From Ask the Pilot, everything you need to know about commercial flying

TERRORISM, TWEEZERS, AND TERMINAL MADNESS: An Essay On Security made up by buying research paper online

An excerpt from “AskthePilot.com” …………..

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot, air travel columnist and author.

But of all the contradictions and self-defeating measures TSA has come up with, possibly none is more blatantly ludicrous than the policy decreeing that pilots and flight attendants undergo the same x-ray and metal detector screening as passengers. What makes it ludicrous is that tens of thousands of other airport workers, from baggage loaders and fuelers to cabin cleaners and maintenance personnel, are subject only to occasional random screenings when they come to work. These are individuals with full access to aircraft, inside and out. Some are airline employees, though a high percentage are contract staff belonging to outside companies. The fact that crewmembers, many of whom are former military flyers, and all of whom endured rigorous background checks prior to being hired, are required to take out their laptops and surrender their hobby knives, while a caterer or cabin cleaner sidesteps the entire process and walks onto a plane unimpeded, nullifies almost everything we’ve been told since September 11th, 2001. If there is a more ringing let-me-get-this-straight scenario anywhere in the realm of airport security, I’d like to hear it.

Here’s a true story:

I’ve just worked a flight coming from overseas. I’m wearing my full uniform, and have all of my gear with me. The plan is to run upstairs and leave my flight bag in the crew room before catching my commuter flight home. Unfortunately this means having to endure arrival screening, one of airport security’s most irritating protocols. After clearing customs, passengers and crew alike face the x-ray line and metal detector before they’re allowed back into the concourse. (This inconvenient rule is in place because of another inconvenient rule — the one that makes connecting passengers claim and re-check their luggage when arriving from places outside the United States — even though their bags have already been screened at the point of departure. The thinking is that people could unpack this or that dangerous item from a checked suitcase — a four-ounce bottle of shampoo say — then carry it on to the next flight.)

So, together with a throng of exhausted passengers I’m funneled into the grimy, dimly lit checkpoint. I hoist my crew bags onto the x-ray belt, then pass through the metal detector. Once on the other side, I’m waiting for my stuff to reappear when suddenly the belt comes to a stop. “Bag check!” shouts the guard behind the monitor.

The bag she’s talking about turns out to be my roll-aboard. A second guard, a mean-looking woman whose girth is exceeded only by the weight of the chip on her shoulder, comes over and yanks it from the machine.

“Is this yours?” she wants to know.

“Yes, it’s mine.”

“You got a knife in here?”

“A knife?”

“A knife,” she barks. Some silverware?”

Yes I do. I always do. Inside my roll-aboard I carry a spare set of airline-issue cutlery – a spoon, a fork, and a knife. Along with packets of noodles and other small snacks, this is part of my hotel survival kit, useful in the event of short layovers when food isn’t available. Borrowed from my collection of airline silverware (some of us really have such things), it’s the exact cutlery that accompanies your meal on a long-haul flight. The pieces are stainless steel, and about five inches long. The knife has a rounded end and a short row of teeth — I would call them serrations, but that’s too strong a word. For all intents and purposes, it’s a miniature butter knife.

“Yes,” I tell the guard. “There’s a metal knife in there – a butterknife.”

She opens the compartment and takes out a small vinyl case containing the three pieces. After removing the knife, she holds it upward between with two fingers and stares at me coldly. Her pose is like that of an angry schoolteacher about to berate a child for bringing some forbidden object to class.

“You ain’t takin’ this through,” she says. “No knifes. You can’t bring a knife through here.”

It takes a moment for me to realize that she’s serious. “I’m… but…. it’s…”

“Sorry.” She throws it into a bin and starts to walk away.

“Wait a minute,” I say. “That’s airline silverware.”

“Don’t matter what it is. You can’t bring knifes through here.”

“Ma’am, that’s an airline knife. It’s the knife they give you on the plane.”

“No knifes. Have a good afternoon, sir.”

“You can’t be serious,” I say.

With that she grabs the knife out of the bin and walks over to one of her colleagues, seated at the end of the checkpoint in a folding chair. I follow her over.

“This guy wants to bring this through.”

The man in the chair looks up lazily. “Is it serrated?”

She hands it to him. He looks at it quickly, then addresses me.

“No, this is no good. You can’t take this.”

“Why not?”

“It’s serrated.” He is talking about the little row of teeth along the edge. Truth be told, the knife in question, which I’ve had for years, is actually smaller and less sharp than the knives currently handed out by my airline to its first and business class customers. You’d be hard pressed to cut a slice of toast with it.

“Oh come on.”

“What do you call these?” He runs his finger along the miniscule serrations.

“Those… but… they… it…”

“No serrated knives. You can’t take this.”

“But sir, how can it not be allowed when it’s the same knife they give you on the plane!”

“Those are the rules.”

“That’s impossible. Can I please speak to a supervisor?”

“I am the supervisor.”

There are those moments in life when time stands still and the air around you seems to solidify. You stand there in an amber of absurdity, waiting for the crowd to burst out laughing and the “Candid Camera” guy to appear from around the corner.

Except the supervisor is dead serious.

Realizing that I’m not getting my knife back, I try for the consolation prize, which is getting the man to admit that, if nothing else, the rule makes no sense. “Come on,” I argue. “The purpose of confiscating knives is to keep people from bringing them onto planes, right? But the people planes are legally handed these knives with their meals. Plus, I’m the pilot! How can you… I mean… it’s just… At least admit to me that it’s a dumb rule. ”

“It’s not a dumb rule.”

“Yes it is.”

“Not it isn’t.”

And so on, until he asks me to leave.

What happened to me was wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to keep them straight. Just for starters, do I really need to point out that an airline pilot at the controls of his plane would hardly need a butter knife is he desired to inflict damage?

Now a liquids story:

One day in 2006 my mother caused a small commotion at a checkpoint at Boston-Logan after screeners discovered a container of homemade tomato sauce in her bag. What with the preponderance of spaghetti grenades and lasagna bombs, we can all be proud of their vigilance; and, as a liquid, tomato sauce is in clear violation of the TSA’s carry-on statutes. But this time there was a wrinkle: the sauce was frozen.

The icy red block had the guards in a scramble. Liquid, solid, gel, what was it? A supervisor was called over to assess things. He spent several moments stroking his chin. Drawing from an exquisite knowledge of refrigeration, he observantly sized things up. “It’s not a liquid right now,” he noted. “But it will be soon.”

“I wonder if this isn’t a test,” murmured another guard.

“Please,” urged my mother. “Please don’t take away my dinner.”

Lo and behold, they did not. Whether out of confusion, sympathy, or embarrassment, she was allowed to pass with her murderous marinara.

Click here for the entire essay and more on “Ask the Pilot”

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2 comments for “TERRORISM, TWEEZERS, AND TERMINAL MADNESS: An Essay On Security

  1. August 8, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Visit Patrick’s blog. Great information from the other side of the cockpit door.

    I think it’s bizarre that pilots and flight attendants are required to check-in with the gate agent before entering the jetway, while the outside vendors like cabin-cleaners, caterers, etc., are permitted to enter the jetway and aircraft without verification from these same agents. Is it the same procedure for all carriers?

    WE (the crew) work for the company. WE are taking the airplane and passengers to the destination, and we’ll be going really fast and at very high altitudes!

    But the outside vendors (like cleaners/caterers) do not work for the airline, are not traveling with the airplane, and have not gone through our specific training and government authorization approval. Yet they have access to the aircraft, when we do not?

    What are your thoughts? Leave comments below………….

  2. John in MRY
    August 8, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Admittedly, the butter knife story is a little crazy, but…what about the PSA flight where the employees smuggled a gun, shot and killed the pilots leading to a crash that killed 70 others?

    And wasnt it disgruntled FedEx pilot a few years ago who attacked his fellow crew members with a fishing spear gun in the hope that he could crash the DC-10 into FedEx headquarters?

    The DL F/a earlier this summer who “accidentally forgot” she had a handgun in her roll-a-board?

    The AA F/A who was recently arrested for making terrorist threats?

    Doesn’t seem like crewmembers are all “saints” to me and that’s reason enough to keep them going through security…especially considering that there are special considerations given for things like liquids, etc.

    I don’t think flight crew should be immune from screening…but, I think the cleaners and mechanics should be required to go through security.

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