And what are we getting for all this? The last two attempts to bomb a plane were foiled by alert passengers, not by official security. In fact, when the airport security systems were subjected to a test, about half of those trying to smuggle "firearms" and other simulated weapons went undetected. This is not a very good ercord.
This isn't security. It's security theater. It makes us feel like the government is "doing something" about the problem. In fact, it's simply a waste of money, and -- more important -- the time of the millions of passengers who have to put up with it.
Consider Israel. Israel faces an environment that is much more hostile than the US. Yet in all the years since 1948, there has been exactly one Israeli plane hijacked. None have been blown up in mid-air. Nobody gets groped. Only a few passengers get searched, selected by the way they behave during a brief interview. And they seem to be meeting their target of 20 minutes from terminal entrance to departure lounge.
Compare that with the US, where you are told to arrive at the airport 1 hour before domestic flights, 1.5-2 hours before international flights. And groping seems to be routine. Or maybe you prefer an "X-ray" that -- in addition to subjecting you to unnecessary radiation -- shows the TSA employees the exact shape of your body -- including your penis or vagina. Isn't that fun?
What's the difference? Israel uses highly trained people to check passengers. You need a college education to be a security screener for El Al. Their people know what questions to ask, and what to look for in the way of evasiveness or nervousness. And those people who fit the threat profile -- by behavior not by ethnicity -- get pulled aside for additional questions and/or a search.
The US uses security screening as a way of creating jobs for the unskilled. Take somebody off the street, give them a couple of weeks of training, and send them to operate complex metal-detection and X-ray equipment. It's no wonder that we do so poorly at finding threats, while Israel has a near 100% success rate.
So... just say NO! Say no to airplane tickets. Don't buy them. Want to go on vacation? Choose a place you can drive to. Or take the train, or the bus. Need to conference with other business people? Use Skype or other videoconferencing technologies, and you don't even need to leave your desk.
Say no. When enough people refuse to put up with this and stop buying tickets, the airlines will get the message. And then the airlines will make sure that Congress gets the message.
One unfortunate thing about our current political system is that it is hard for the average person to be heard by those in power. But big corporations will be heard, because they have the money to make "campaign contributions" (bribes) to Representatives, Senators, and other elected officials. So hit them in the pocketbook, and they will get Congress to change the rules.
When we spend the money -- and, more important, the time and thought -- to revamp our security to be more like Israel's, then it will be time to think about flying again. When you can arrive at the terminal 1/2 hour before your flight time, check your luggage at the curb, and stroll to your gate in time to board your flight, and planes don't get hijacked or blown up, then we will have a security system that works. Until then, just say no.
Now... why I no longer fly:
My first airplane trip was in 1966, LA to Cleveland. I took a cab to the airport, checked my suitcase, and walked to the boarding gate. The plane was completely full. I was 19 years old, and had been working less than a year, I flew on a standby "youth fare". Standby means you get on the plane if some of the passengers with reserved seats don't show up. I did, but just barely. And nobody hassled me about the portable typewriter I carried on board. I spent about half the trip with it on my knees, typing an essay I was working on.
That's right. A typewriter. The kind with little keys that come up and hit the ribbon so ink goes onto the paper. Imagine the reaction if you tried to bring something with that much metal onto a plane these days.
My second trip was very similar, but I'd been working longer and had some money. I flew LA to Boston for a conference, then on to London. Again, we went to the airport, went to our gate, and got on. No searches.
We started flying regularly in 1975. By that time, there'd been a couple of hijackings, so you had to put your carry-on through an x-ray machine. But still, it was walk up, put your carry-ons on the belt, and walk through the metal detector. I don't think we had to wait as long as 5 minutes.
This continued throughout the 80s. I had a job -- customer serviced on some software -- that involved flying to San Jose once every 3 weeks. This was a treat, especially coming home. I'd leave work about 45 minutes before my flight, drive to SJ airport with a stop to refill the tank along the way. The rental-car check-in was right next to the terminal, so I'd just drive in, write the mileage on the envelope, and hand the envelope & keys to a Hertz employee. Then I'd walk to my gate (with brief stop at the x-ray) and get on the plane. I could calculate how long it would take to within 3 minutes.
Somehow, what had been a 5 minute wait had turned into a half-hour of standing in line. Folks, whatever a "reasonable" search may be, this isn't it.
My last airplane trip was in 2006. We went because Boskone (an annual SF conference in Boston) invited us. We got to the airport 1-1/2 hours before our scheduled departure. Why? For "security".