Saturday, March 16, 2013

Friendlier Skies

If you're flying out to skate in the Tahoe Cup in California, you're in luck. Likewise if your son wants to take part in the Boo Bash in Michigan. And if you're entered in the 2nd Annual Southern Classic in Tunica, Mississippi, you're in business. That's because each of those events take place after April 26. And on that day the TSA loosens up, and lets you take (respectively) your hockey stick, lacrosse stick or billiard cue on board with you when you fly out to compete.

As part of its shift from a one-size-fits-all approach (or perhaps more accurately stated, "everyone-is-a-terrorist-until-proven-otherwise" approach), the agency has been refining its rules and regulations. The idea is to use a combination of technology and behavioral analysis to flag the most likely possibilities of a breach to the system. Add in the hat trick of more people using carry-ons to escape check-thru luggage fees, somewhere north of 350 million individuals trying to get to their concourse every year and tighter budgets meaning reduced manpower, and a more intelligent, nuanced approach is the only way to guarantee safety AND eliminate 3 hour check in lines at 6AM in Philadelphia.

If you're traveled recently, you probably have noticed some initial moves in this direction. Most obvious are signs that those under age 12 or over 75 can leave on their shoes and light jackets when going through security. That's because the experts concluded that the likelihood of a 3-year old with a blankie or a grandmother with a walker taking down an Airbus is a low probability event.

And so the most recent modifications follow the same logic. While it's true you can cause havoc with anything, odds are your slapshot isn't strong enough to get through the reinforced cockpit door. And so in addition to the aforementioned sports equipment, you will now be permitted to take on board small pocket knives, ski poles, bats less than 24 inches and 24 ounces (think "Bat Day" souvenirs), and golf clubs, though you are limited to two, and not necessarily a pitch n' putt set. True, James Bond could probably take over a plane with a nine iron, but only if it was a par 3.

Still, one wonders if officials really have a handle on all this. After all, last year they stopped a guy and his 4-year-old son as they went through security in Rhode Island with the child's 3 stuffed animals. Agents manning the x-ray machine noticed that Teddy, Bunny and Mickey, while cute and cuddly, had rather robust internal organs. Upon closer examination, they found that hidden inside were the complete working parts for a .40 caliber pistol, along with 2 rounds.

Good for them, you say: the system worked. They weren't swayed by age or demeanor, and found an obvious breach of safety, and a threat to passengers and crew. However, after airport police, state police and the FBI were called in and investigated, they confiscated the weapon and declared that there was no real threat to airport security. According to their statement, the hiding of the weapon in the toys was merely the result of a "domestic dispute." And the boy and his dad boarded their flight and continued on.

While it seems counter-intuitive to let someone who was hiding a gun on board, perhaps it's not. While I hate to paraphrase the NRA, guns and bullets don't take over planes, people take over planes. After all, it was the late great George Carlin that noted that once on board they bring you a meal with a fork and a knife: "It's only a table knife, but you could kill a pilot with a table knife. It might take you a couple minutes, especially if he's hefty. Hell, you could even probably beat a guy to death with a Sunday New York Times." In that spirit, officials decided that the guy wasn't a threat, gun and wife not withstanding, and let him pass.

Still, let me see if I got this right. With the new, smarter approach to security, we're not just taking things at face value. Behavior, appearance and intent all count. So you can try and board an aircraft with a concealed weapon. And if found, but you have a good explanation, no problem. But don't think of taking more than 3 ounces of shampoo. That could be dangerous.

I think we still need a few more tweaks to the system.


Marc Wollin of Bedford considers himself an expert security lane goer-thru. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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