Flying the Frightened Skies

Worried about draconian new flight restrictions? Don't be. For most of us, it's still flying as usual.

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In the immediate aftermath of a would-be terrorist trying to blow a plane out of the sky over Detroit on Christmas Day, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) issued a vague set of new warnings that left passengers utterly confused as to what to expect. Now, days later, we know: For domestic air-flight, it's pretty much business as usual.

At first, would-be passengers were expecting to be frisked as they prepared to board their planes; to have to sit during the first and last hour of their flight; to be unable to keep pillows and blankets on their laps; and you could forget about using any electronics on board. On some flights in late December, all these nuisances happened.

[ Can Imaging Technologies save us from Terrorists?]

That was then. This is now.

I asked the hundreds of people I know who are now in Las Vegas for CES (Consumer Electronics Show) to let me know what changes, if any, as they made their way to Las Vegas' McCarran airport. So, what they did see that was different? Nothing. Not one blessed thing.

Here are some examples of what they saw. One editor said, "This was an internal, domestic flight, but the security was no more a headache than it's been during the last nine years...of course, it was no less a headache, either..."

Another fellow writer reported, "We forgot to take our quart bags of liquids out and nobody cared. They did notice water bottles with water in them. Rome's airport didn't have a trash can to empty them into so we drank fast."

Outside of Washington, a columnist buddy of mine said he saw "No crowds, no lines, no wait at Dulles -- though they might have cranked up the metal detector, since I had to remove a belt that usually doesn't set the machine off."

As another friend of mine noted about that, "The recent problems, of course, have nothing to do with metal detection. As ever, they're fighting the last war."

There does seem to be some profiling going on though. An engineer friend of mine said, "Heading out of Newark for Las Vegas yesterday, some profiling was evident. Scraggly-looking students were getting more thorough inspections, as were non-Americans. I had enough electronic stuff with me to open a small kiosk. They didn't even unzip the bag."

Another old work-friend of mine topped his story. "This morning out of EWR, carrying enough electronica to shame Bill -- I also have a portable hard drive, external DVD drive I'm not sure why since every CES press kit is online or a USB key, camera body, lenses, and enough battery packs to jump-start a Caterpillar D9 stuck in permafrost - and it took longer to negotiate the now-very-long corridors of stanchions and ropes than to show my boarding pass and ID."

That's not to say that some people aren't having more trouble flying.
If your itinerary includes countries on the TSA's 'nation of interest' list -- Cuba, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or Yemen -- I can pretty much guarantee you'll be checked out to a fare-thee-well before you board a flight to the U.S.

And, of course, there are quirks such as the TSA Confiscating a Boy's Play-Doh in New Orleans and famous comedian Joan Rivers being blocked from flying to the States from Costa Rica, but this strikes me as just more of the same old, same old from the TSA.

After a few days of panic, and getting ready to throw more money at full-body scanning technologies, which might not do much good at all, we're back to our default of annoying, vexing, and no more secure then ever flying.

As for me, I'm going to continue to drive and take trains as much as possible. It's not that I think flying is all that dangerous. I don't. With the erratic enforcement and interpretations of TSA rules, I've just found flying to be too annoying to put up with unless I have no choice in the matter. Your mileage may vary.

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