A recent LA Times guest editorial headlined “Security or just silliness?” has the writer describing airport security measures he and his family experienced during travel in the immediate aftermath of the Christmas Day terrorist attempt. He labels procedures installed over the holidays at the airport they flew home from as “hastily thrown-together rules” and questions whether some security rules are just “silly” and “cooked-up by some TSA paper pusher” in an effort to respond to a recent attack, rather than anticipating the next attack. His closing paragraph insists “There’s got to be a better way” although no suggestions or offers to help are made, possibly because the complaints themselves are meant to be a form of help.
Should air travel consumers have a voice in the procedural responses to new events of air travel terrorism, a voice that is as loud or perhaps even louder than any experts or professionals involved in the process? Consider that it has historically been the argument of American auto makers that our cars get new safety innovations only as the market supports the additional cost. Decades after knowing that they would save lives, seat belts and air bags were finally added to cars. Of course right now we could build cars that saved even more lives but the argument is that people wouldn’t pay for those changes or like the look of the product, so the market (consumers; you) speaks (by remaining silent) and stops that development.
Several days after the Christmas Day terrorism attack—and I’m qualifying that it was terrifying even if we later learn the “perp” acted alone—an authority on security closed his part of a TV news discussion by suggesting that when we start talking about what we (everybody) want in terms of airport and flight safety, we might keep in mind that car accidents in the U.S. kill 40 thousand people each year. While he wasn’t given time to focus his point, it was clear to me: Consumers appear to be getting what they want in terms of auto safety, since you don’t hear the same kind of complaining about that many dead in cars as you do about delays and frustration and inconvenience at airports.
Any bureaucracy, even something as contained as the school prom steering committee, is vulnerable to a level of wrong decision making and chaos in the system. Now imagine the scope of the TSA and airline security globally following 9/11. Then imagine what happened internally when systems genius George W. Bush decided to reconfigure the arteries of U.S. intelligence with the grandstanding reorganization known as “Homeland Security.” I don’t think we should “accept” that a name was left off of “No Fly” listings, but I think we can conceive of it happening even at this later date.
If we are also able to conceive of what might be inherent in systems based on countless hours of human performance in repetitive tasks (airport security) and further understand not only a need but a demand for a visible response to new events of breached security, then why are we unable to stop ourselves from whining at the consumer end about airport security? How long did we let infants die in auto accidents before child safety seats became the law? Did you talk on the phone while driving your car just minutes ago? What is the grounded and justified basis of complaint about airport security? Is it that, like the author of the Times editorial, we’re all somehow vaguely certain that the job can be better accomplished?
Of course it can, just as the prom steering committee might have worked harder to come up with a theme other than “Love the One You’re With.” But here’s where we might part company: I believe airport procedures can and will improve in safety and security. Many appear far more interested in reducing the time security takes and the individual irritations associated with it.
I’m just looking to understand a behavior, not quash dialogue on one of the most important consumer issues of our time: Safety in the air. And like with all things sold, consumer experience will always matter. But… is it me, or does eight days after a terrorist event that might easily have claimed 300-plus lives seem like too soon to be filing complaints about “inconvenience” at the consumer end? TSA employees are in place to maintain safety and security, not to sustain an image of how cool and fun it used to be to fly on airplanes. Perhaps soon everyone’s crotch will be scanned or we’ll endure some other additional procedure. But that activity will be the result of a review by those deemed professional in the singular concern of saving human lives. There will be considerations of passenger privacy, but hopefully not at the risk of endangering lives.
On December 28th, NBC News aired a sound bite from a foreign passenger traveling in the U.S. In somewhat fractured English the young man stated that travel in the U.S. was “dangerous” because “there are so many who want to make harm to this country.” That’s unfortunately true, and we all share in that because of having either voted for or having allowed the courts to elect men who ignored warnings regarding 9/11 –type attacks, then lied to instigate an unrelated war that fueled global contempt for their “leadership.” That was us, not the TSA. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.
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