Monday, December 28, 2009

TSA Rules and LAWKI

When I studied astronomy at university, back in the day (way back), discussions of life in the universe included the term LAWKI, which  stands for Life As We Know It. In universal terms, LAWKI refers to the fact that we "carbon-based life forms" have limited ability to conceive of life on any basis other than our own. A frequent theme of Star Trek and related fantasies, is just such other forms of life: intelligent clouds of gas in space, silicon-based intelligent crystals, talking lizards and so forth.

One might look with such difficulty at the current discussions of new TSA rules, and with about as much success, for intelligent life. Certainly, LAWKI does not inhabit the alternative universe from which most of the discussion seems to come.  The TSA has a page prominently linked on their web site:  Guidance for Passengers. It does not require a university education to go to the TSA web site, click through and read the actual implementation of new rules. Why then, does all the discussion I've seen rely on made-up "facts"?

The summary from the fact-based universe is that the TSA has implemented a set of security measures, the exact details of which are not released to the public. (For reasons that should be obvious.)  The measures are not being deployed across the board, but rather in a rolling manner, randomly or pseudo-randomly, so that at any given airport or on any given flight, no travellers will know exactly what to expect.

Doesn't this make sense? It makes sense to me!

Additionally, based on the behavior of the passenger who tried to bomb the plane on Christmas day, inbound international flights will have additional restrictions. Among these are restrictions on movement and handling of personal items toward the end of the flight. These restrictions apply only on international flights.

Now, I might say that these restrictions make little sense in the long run, but in the short term, they may make sense in this regard: nut jobs run in packs. The copycat nutter who sees someone try a stunt like this, and whose dim bulb brightens at the prospect of a "good idea," is a dangerous and known phenomenon. The purpose of the restrictions on international flights is (or may be) simply to prevent the unhinged from following up with additional, and possibly more effective, attempts at the same trick.

For five years, from 2002 to 2007, I spent about three weeks of each month travelling around the United States. I was so sick of being gone from home; my wife said she felt like a single mother. I would rather drive 6 hours to Baltimore than take the 45-minute flight from Bradley. So, I have plenty of firsthand experience with TSA and airport security. Many of the rules, I regard as stupid and annnoying. But, they exist and you will be required to follow them.  For the sake of sanity, stop bitching and figure out how to make the process as quick as possible.

  • Use your passport for identification.
  • Have it ready before you get to the inspection point.
  • Know where your stuff is. Don't block up the line trying to find it.
  • Understand the rules about liquids such as shampoo and make sure your carryon items will pass inspection.
  • Don't argue.
  • Don't lollygag. Move like you have a purpose when getting out your laptop, taking off your shoes, &c.
  • If you have to wear metal jewelry, don't wait until you get to the checkpoint to take it off!
  • Think.

Much of the rulemaking for air travel is premissed on the fact that Americans expect the government to take all responsibility for travel safety. All the complainers who are now affronted by the TSA rules, would be equally affronted if a copycat bomber followed up this guy with another attempt because the new restrictions were not in place. I would argue that there's inherent risk in getting on a plane and travellers ought to bear some reasonable level of that risk.

The argument is over what constitutes "reasonable" in this event. For most Americans, evidently, any risk at all is "unreasonable."

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