Advertisement

Archive for Friday, August 11, 2006

Safety worth some inconvenience

August 11, 2006

Advertisement

Well, that was close.

Wednesday morning, I flew home out of London's Heathrow airport. Thursday morning, British authorities announced they had broken up a terrorist plot to blow up U.S.-bound flights out of Heathrow using bombs in carry-on bags.

Needless to say, I am happier than usual to be home.

The word from London as this is written is that passengers leaving Heathrow should expect long delays and restrictions on carry-on luggage so stringent that not even iPods and paperbacks will get by. Those few items that are allowed through - glasses, medicines, passports - will have to be carried in see-though packaging.

This will, of course, require major adjustments for travelers, especially as compared with how easily I got through security before Thursday. Let them X-ray your bag and feel you up, and you were ready to fly. No need to even take off your shoes as in the United States.

Not that I would hold up U.S. airport security as a model. No one could do that who remembered the spate of incidents a few years ago showing that our security leaks like a sieve. Between them, travelers who were simply careless and a college student, a team of journalists and some Transportation Department officials who set out separately to test security, managed to get knives, box cutters, pepper spray and loaded semi-automatic pistols past the crackerjack women and men of the Transportation Security Administration. Indeed, the Transportation Department test found that screeners missed 30 percent of guns, 60 percent of simulated explosives, 70 percent of knives.

That's why I'm gratified to see the United Kingdom taking security more seriously. And why I wish the United States would do the same. Yes, the (temporary?) new procedures are an inconvenience. Yes, inconvenience is a four-letter word in this country.

But maybe it's a word we should get used to. I don't know how it is in the U.K., but here in the States, the architects of the "War on Terror" have been curiously unwilling to ask sacrifices of us. Oh, they happily impose - and we meekly accept - all sorts of infringements upon our civil liberties based upon all sorts of spurious reasoning. But they seem loath to truly inconvenience us. We - and I include myself - remove our shoes and take our laptops out of briefcases and whine about it as if we are rationing nylon or collecting scrap.

If, however, this war is, as advertised, a struggle of civilized people against a culture of barbarism and murder, perhaps we ought to, as a pragmatic necessity and a moral duty, be willing to accept some real aggravation in exchange for real security.

It is worth noting that El Al, the state airline of Israel, a nation that knows a little something about terrorism, backstops the TSA - i.e., does a secondary security screening - at four of the five U.S. airports from which it flies and has sought permission to do so at the fifth. Shows you what they think of what passes for airport security in this country.

Yet, when asked about adopting El Al's methods in the United States - intensive interrogation of each passenger, hand searches of every bag, air marshals on every flight - an airline security expert told the New York Times in May that you couldn't do that here because it would disrupt American air travel.

Hey, I don't want to face an inquisition each time I fly. I don't want to be stuck on a plane without my iPod and headphones, sitting next to some cranky toddler who has been denied his boo bear and pacifier. And if there are effective security measures short of that, I will gladly accept them. If, however, there aren't, I will adapt. See, the one thing I "really" don't want is to be blown to pieces in midair because somebody didn't want to inconvenience me.

Getting killed is the biggest inconvenience of them all.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.