Pilot Patrick Smith mocks the Transportation Security Administration. As he points out, everyone who flies knows he's right, but none of the interested parties will stick their necks out to fix the problem.

At this point, the Transportation Security Administration's policies in general are wrong on so many levels that it's hard to get one's arms around them. My apologies to those who've tired of my harping on this subject in column after column, but here again are the bullet points:

* Sharp, potentially dangerous objects can be fashioned from virtually anything, including no shortage of materials found on board any jetliner -- to say nothing of the fact that a copycat takeover in the style of Sept. 11 would be almost impossible for terrorists to pull off, regardless of what weapons they possess. Yet we insist on wasting huge amounts of time digging through people's belongings, looking for what are effectively benign items.

* Almost as senseless are the liquids and gels restrictions. Experts have pointed out the futility of these measures, yet they remain in place. (Still more from TSA's you-can't-make-this-up list of airport contraband: gel shoe inserts.)

* TSA's approach is fundamentally flawed in that it treats everybody -- from employees to passengers, old and young, domestic and foreign -- as a potential threat. We are all suspects. Together with a preposterous zero-tolerance approach to weapons, be they real or perceived, this has created a colossal apparatus that strives for the impossible.

I can't disagree that some level of screening will always be important. Explosives and firearms, for instance, need to be kept off airplanes. But the existing rules are so heavy-handed, absolute and illogical as to be ultimately unenforceable.

You would think, nearly seven years after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, that TSA would have gotten its act together. Not just tactically, but functionally. Take a look at the typical checkpoint. There are people yelling, bags falling, trash bins overflowing with water bottles. There's nowhere to stand, nowhere to move. It's a jury-rigged circus. ...

Except there is no fuss. Serious protest has been all but nil. The airlines, biggest losers in all of this, remain strangely quiet. More and more people are choosing not to fly, and checkpoint hassles are one of the reasons. Yet the industry appears to have little concern while an out-of-control agency delays and aggravates its customers.

Any public officeholder or official who complains or attempts to change the broken system will be pilloried when there's another successful terrorist attack against an airliner. The facade of security isn't worth the cost, and more people need to stand up and say so.

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