Elevated
Drawing the line on airport security
Published August 17, 2005

As a special bonus, we present this column as originally written. Excised text appears in this pretty red color.

When is enough enough? We already have to go through metal detectors, strip off our overcoats, take off our shoes, have our bags rooted through and torn apart, and, of course, most egregiously, be groped and hand-searched in public, with women forced to have their breasts touched and examined in front of the entire security line. Soon, new scanning machines will essentially strip-search every passenger, stripping away all notion of privacy. And yet we passively succumb to this repeated stupidity on the assumption that it will somehow make us safer.

I had a shocking thought the other day: what if air travel is safe enough already?

When terrorists used box-cutters to hijack airplanes and turn them into self-guided missiles, we responded by making darn sure that no one ever brought another set of box-cutters—or nail trimmers, or laser pointers, or duct tape—onto a plane, as though the terrorists would ever manage to repeat this attack. Answer me this: if you were on a plane and a group of men tried to hijack that plane, would you let them? Even if they carried box-cutters?

Is air travel perfectly safe? No. Can it be? No. If we were obsessed about making everything in life as safe as we apparently want to make air travel, we’d be living in an interesting world. Why let anyone drive faster than twenty miles an hour? Under that speed, the chances of a fatal collision are virtually zero! Why let anyone drink alcohol, or smoke, or eat unhealthy foods? Why, a mandate to eat only the same healthy menu, over and over again, breakfast, lunch and dinner, would save millions of lives!

Why stop there? It seems foolish to risk the use of stairs, when so many people fall on them. The government could mandate that all buildings either have elevators or only one floor! People drown in swimming pools every year, and in the ocean. Swimming seems like a good activity to ban, too. And all those people living in areas prone to tornados, earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes and forest fires? They’ll have to move somewhere else, where they aren’t foolishly endangering their lives.

And all those men and women risking their lives over in Iraq, fighting insurgents? They’ll have to come back too, obviously, and live in specially-designed bubbles like the rest of us. Oh wait. They were helping to make the rest of us safer, weren’t they? By helping recruit more terrorists, by destabilizing the Middle East and driving Iran to develop nuclear weapons, and by draining away all of America’s wealth for a hopeless waste of time. I remember now.

Before I get mail about how much I hate our men and women in uniform, I wish nothing more than that they were safe, and not forced to risk their lives for a foolish endeavor launched by a bunch of chicken-hawks who wouldn’t know the right end of a rifle until they shot themselves in the foot.

So, I say, enough! All of these new security measures are simply closing the barn door after the cows have run off, useless responses to the previous terrorist attack—even the groping of breasts! There were plenty of bombings and hijackings of airplanes in the '70s and '80s, yet we were allowed to wear our shoes and eat with metal utensils. I’m not saying that reasonable, effective security measures—like luggage scans and metal detectors—should be curtailed, but there should be room for reason, for a balance between security and dignity.

We can either continue to live in fear, and sacrifice all our self-respect on the alter of, “Well, it makes me safer, I think,” or we can say, “Enough!”