Yet another reason not to fly U.S. Airways

If you didn’t already think allowing guns on planes was a dumb idea, this ought to convince you.

Bullets have been known to kill people. If such a person happens to be in the cockpit, the plane could crash. Bullets have also been known to depressurize planes. If said bullet pierces the cabin, the plane may not crash but will certainly need an emergency landing. If the bullet simply got lodged somewhere but the shot occured at a critical phase of flight (um, landing, for instance), the distraction could cause the pilots to crash.

A Kevlar-reinforced flight deck door is plenty. Allowing guns on plane is a dumb idea. Dumb, dumb, dumb. The pilot in this case should be terminated.

TSA: Thinking Shouldn’t Apply

So I was going through my umpteenth security screening at the airport when I realized yet another thing very stupid about the “liquid limit” busywork …er, screening the TSA is performing.

Each traveler is limited to 3.4 oz containers which fit in a 1 quart bag. Screeners will pitch an absolute hissy fit if any container is over the 3.4 oz size, yet they all must fit in a one-quart bag. If you can carry a whole quart of explosives (or the far more deadly shampoo), what’s the point of the 3.4 ounce size restriction? Who cares if your liquids are in small bottles if they can all total one quart? Why not just say you’re limited to a total of one quart of explosive shampoo and be done with it?

Sheesh. It’s times like these I wonder if the TSA is nothing more than Bush’s jobs creation program.

Transportation Bureaucracy Agency

I’m at the OKC airport and decided to skip checking my bag this time, as I’ll be pressed for time to catch my next plane in the Kansas City airport. Thus I decided to try out TSA’s new liquids-and-gels-in-a-baggie rule. The nice TSA agent at the front of the checkpoint directed me to the nearby news store where I could get a quart bag. Armed with the bag, I loaded it up with the liquids and gels in my travel kit.

Now, I went out a week ago and bought the appropriately-sized bottles and sizes. By the way, the allowed sizes used to be 4 ounces though this size was changed to officially 3 ounces with little fanfare. Figuring I was legit, I confidently marched up to the screening line.

As I approached a screening point with a couple of passengers in it, another TSA agent kindly directed me to a line down the hall. Working under the assumption that this line would somehow be shorter than the one in front of me with two people in it, I blindly followed his directions.

Big mistake. In my new line a new X-ray screener was being trained, and she insisted on spending a full minute on every bag that crossed her path. The line soon ballooned to 30 passengers. I’m not used to getting to know the fellow passengers in the screening line, so I took advantage to chat while we all waited for the rookie to figure out what she was doing.

After ten minutes, it was finally my turn to go. In went my baggie into the bin with my shoes. Laptop, laptop bag, and roller bag followed. I breezed through the X-ray machine without breaking my stride and waited to collect my bags.

That’s when things turned ridiculous. A TSA agent approached the end of the belt, waving my baggie in the air.

“Whose bag is this?” he asked rather loudly.

“Uh, its mine. Is there a problem?”

I expected to see something really dangerous that I’d forgotten to remove, like my nail clippers. Nail clippers are to airplanes as icebergs are to the Titanic, you know. I was surprised instead to see him dangling my nearly empty tube of toothpaste: one with perhaps one or two molecules of toothpaste left in it.

“You can’t take this with you,” he announced in a voice designed for other passengers to hear.

I tried to suppress a smile. “But it’s practically empty! What’s wrong with it?”

“Its too big,” he told me. “You’re limited to 3 ounces.”

While the tube was indeed a full-size tube, it was so empty it probably wouldn’t even tip the scales. I decided to probe the depths of this insanity.

“I’m pretty sure it has less than 3 ounces of toothpaste in it. Couldn’t you weigh it?”

“No sir,” was the all-too-serious reply. “We go by what’s printed on the tube.”

Aha. So if a container actually has the size printed on the side, it gets scrutinized. But all those anonymous plastic travel containers
with no size printed on them at all can pass right through scot-free.

“All right. Go ahead,” I relented, knowing I would’ve tossed the tube in a week anyway. Knowing he had kept the skies safe from clean teeth, the agent smugly dropped the tube into the trash.

The irony is that if I’d left the tube in my roller bag, it almost certainly would’ve passed through without detection. TSA winds up punishing the people who try to follow the rules.

Half-Baked Screening Rules Cause Delay

Just as I suspected, the lines at the airport screening point were five times as long as they normally are this time of day. In spite of two TSA screeners set up at a table to assist people with removing their liquids (nice effort, actually), the line was still far too long.

I looked around at the people in line and didn’t see one overnight bag anywhere. Why the delay? It seems that the X-ray person was carefully screening each bag for liquids, even though the TSA said on Monday that liquids posed a “very unlikely” threat. As he looked at the lady’s bag behind me, the X-ray operator commented to the screener behind him, “is that a drink?” So clearly liquids are still being screened, in spite of their unlikely threat. At least they aren’t rocketing bags through the machine like they were a few weeks ago.

Another thing I noticed is that the airport is still covered with signs saying liquids are prohibited, even though as of Monday that’s no longer true. People may still be dumping their expensive colognes and perfumes (in some cases not a bad thing) needlessly. I took it as another example of how the new screening rules are half-baked.

TSA Does Body Cavity Search, Finds Its Own Head

As the fifteen readers of MT.Net know, I travel a lot. That gives me an up-close look at the War on Terra, as fought by the fine folks of the TSA. Thus when I saw USA Today’s headline “Liquids not as risky as first feared”, I was about to let rip a “woohoo!” Then I read the new rules and was left scratching my head. If the ban on liquids wasn’t an example of asshattery to begin with, this new move takes the cake.

The essense is this: FBI tests have shown that its “highly unlikely” that terrorists could bring down a plane with small amounts of fluids. This comes to no surprise to anyone who’s looked into it, yet it took the feds a little more time to figure it out. In the meantime, airline traffic has taken a hit, lines are longer for checking bags, and because of the huge volume of checked bags those that do get checked are often rushed to the plane without adqeuate screening. Thus, the things that really can bring down planes aren’t being detected. Feel safer?

Okay, so now the TSA admits that liquids on planes don’t pose a threat. Does that mean we can fly with our toiletries properly stowed in our carryon bags? No. Even though they just admitted there’s no threat, they roll out even more rules! Liquids have to be in tiny travel bottles and must be packed in a clear plastic bag. Now everyone in line at security will know the contents of your toiletry bag. Screeners will have yet another thing to check, which means even more delays getting through security as people fish their bottles out of their bag.

But wait! Haven’t experts told us that liquid explosives can’t be detected by X-ray? Why, yes they have. So what’s the point? The screener’s not going to directly see the bag since its on a belt in an enclosed machine, so what good is it to take it out of your luggage? The screeners are going to have long lines with people fishing out new stuff for inspection, so guess what they’re going to do? They’re going to speed the bags through the machine without carefully checking them.

In the past few weeks, I’ve actually seen that happen. At a major unnamed airport, I watched as an X-ray screener moved a half-dozen bags through the scanner without as much looking at them! Start to finish, the bags never stopped moving. I predict this won’t be the last time once the lines start backing up again.

I’m all for keeping the skies safe. After all, I spend a lot of time in the skies. Eventually, though, someone has to apply some common sense. The liquid ban wasn’t being enforced, or only half-heartedly at best. The odds of someone pulling this off were extremely remote to begin with and the TSA said as much yesterday. Instead of saying they were wrong about the ban, TSA weasels new rules into place which just make a dumb idea dumber.

Like many pilots will admit, the screening process is a charade. If you’re going to do it at all, do it right. Adding rules for the sake of adding rules does nothing but increase self-importance of a government bureacracy.

Airport Follies

I breezed through the airports on my trip to Jackson. It was the easiest time I’d had passing through RDU security in years. I went from car to the gate in less than 15 minutes. At 6 PM on Monday, I expected more hassle. I’m happy to be wrong every now and then!

The Jackson International Airport has got to be the smallest municipal airport I’ve ever visited. It definitely is the smallest international airport I’ve ever visited. The runways, however, are world-class: twin 8500-foot concrete ones. I think the “international” part must come from destinations like Baghdad. I saw a few C-5A‘s land: enormous military cargo planes which seem to hang in the air when they’re moving at 200 knots.

I had fun at the gate while waiting for my plane by punching the tail numbers of the passing aircraft into Google. Google now offers searches on FAA registrations, so I could instantly find out the history and ownership of any plane. For the record, I took N426US from Charlotte to Raleigh.

Another highlight: the TSA screeners at Jackson were the friendliest by far of any airport I’ve visited. They were courteous, they smiled pleasantly, and every single one wished me a good trip, and meant it! Mississippi folks are some of the nicest, friendliest folks anywhere. They were so darn friendly, I was tempted to go through again!

I think airlines need to get tough on passengers hauling refrigerator-sized bags onto planes. They could shave 15 minutes off the trip if they did. We waited that long while huge bags got reshuffled in the overhead bins to accomodate Even More Stuff. I think if a bag won’t fit underneath the seat in front of you, it gets checked. No ifs, ands, or buts.

When I got back to Raleigh I waited around for my bag at baggage claim. If the airlines could speed up that process, the need to carry on luggage would disappear. While I waited, some fellow passengers – obviously new to the area – asked around to find out where to rent cars. I chimed in with info on the shuttle bus and was thanked generously.

It’s not the first time I’ve found myself happily giving airport advice to people there. I love making sure visitors get a good impression of the Triangle. It reminded me to explore an appointment to the RDU Airport Authority board, or at least to volunteer there. Either one would be a blast.

Tried out the new Exit Express service, where you pay for parking before you leave. I was disappointed there were no kiosks at the baggage claim area. It would be perfect to be able to pay for parking while you’re killing time waiting for your bag. It also would provide incentive for bags to get to baggage claim quicker: if the clock was no longer ticking on their lucrative parking fees, airports would be in a hurry to send you on your way. Parking fees are the cash cow for airports. They’d pay attention.

I also didn’t get a receipt for my parking, though I pressed the “receipt” button at the Exit Express kiosk. For a $23 parking bill, you’d better believe I’ll need a receipt.

Now its back to reality as I head into office for the first time since Friday.