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Among the most popular posts here in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© are the occasions when we call attention to Patrick Smith, the airline pilot who writes the Ask the Pilot column for Salon.com.
In fact, one such column was especially popular with Salon’s lawyers, as this then newbie was called to account for exceeding the amount of quoted text allowed by their copyright. Oh, well, live and learn.
But that hasn’t stopped me from reading and appreciating Patrick Smith. His was the first writing to explain specifically why the air travel system in the U.S. is the frenetic mess that it is: more people flying in smaller and smaller aircraft. MSM picked up on the story only after his eye-opening analysis.
Since he’s back flying regularly for one of the big airlines (he keeps which one to himself), his weekly columns have become generally biweekly, but they’re always worth waiting for. He writes like a writer who happens to fly airplanes for a living, rather than the other way around.
This week, he tells of his travails dealing with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Yes, even pilots are subject to carry-on luggage search and body scanning.
Ask the pilot
Propped up by a culture of fear, TSA has become a bureaucracy with too much power and little accountability. Where will the lunacy stop?
By Patrick Smith
July 11, 2008 | I’ve just brought in a flight 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 recheck 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 4-ounce bottle of shampoo, say — then carry it onto the next flight.
Many share his experience of having something innocuous confiscated. And, as he writes, TSA behavior seems to be more a function of poorly trained people placed in powerful positions and acting capriciously, rather than logic. His terrorist weapon? A five-inch airline silverware knife.
Travel never was relaxing for me. The logistical challenges of gauging how soon to leave home based on expected congestion of the highways and terminal; the concern over whether the flight would depart on time or be delayed; the logistical concerns regarding checking and retrieving luggage; the unease over surface connections at the arrival end. Not much fun.
As the TSA added itself to the mix, and as it has steadily escalated the contortions that peaceful law-abiding citizens are subject to, travel has become even more strenuous.
Like generals who are always fighting the last war, TSA’s so-called security measures have built a bureaucracy, staffed by ill-educated and inconsistently trained thugettes and thugs, adept in defending against a one-time threat, instead of expending efforts to determine the nature of likely future terrorist attacks.
I am thus happy enough to be an infrequent traveler, especially for business, when maintaining some kind of custody of my employer’s vulnerable laptop only adds to the stress.
And I’m a civilian. I guess I feel Patrick Smith’s pain as an airline crew member, a frequent flyer by occupation, who is subject to similar indignities, albeit in what is probably a faster moving security line.
One can only hope that the next presidential administration brings back common sense when it comes to homeland security. Redirecting headcount and technology resources to such critical areas as container ports, all but ignored today, would be an excellent way to repurpose TSA.
It’s it for now. Thanks,