29 December 2009

I Have Had It With These Fill-In-The-Blank Books On This Fill-In-The-Blank Plane

While you and I were snug in our beds while visions of sugarplums danced in our heads, some asshole tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas. In the wake of this jerk's actions, the TSA rushed to add new regulations to flights entering the U.S. Because this jerk tried to ruin Christmas during landing, now, among other rules, passengers will have to remain in their seats without any personal items "in their laps" or electronic devices engaged for the last hour (or on some planes, 90 minutes) of a flight.

If I had to describe these new regulations in two words I would bow to author Bruce Schneier for creating the term "security theater," and offer my condolences that for his work he probably gets triple-searched on every single trip he takes, but what I really want to know is: Can you read for the last hour of a flight? I'm not flying internationally in the next few days, but it's in my interest to know as a person who loves to travel with books. And the answer is: Depends on how your flight crew interprets the new rules.

Here's the official DHS wording: "Passengers may not have any blankets, pillows, or personal belongings on the lap beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination." Travel blog Gadling cites an industry source saying that books and other reading material are okay, but a Gizmodo reader reports that on a domestic flight (SF to Eugene, Oregon) passengers were not allowed to read paperbacks they had brought with them during the last hour.

(Even scarier, I was talking about this with my family and my mom said, "Oh yeah, that happened to me last year." A flight attendant made her put her book away before landing, reasoning that it was a "carry-on" and it had to be stowed, or else she would have a surprise meeting with an air marshal. What? This touching holiday moment brought to you by the TSA.)

From all accounts these rules are just temporary, but that's how the liquid and shoe regulations began. On the bright side, in-flight entertainment has been deemed even more of a threat to our way of life than multiple carry-ons and airline blankets, which feels like poetic justice for being subjected to new classics like "Bride Wars" and "Inkheart" on unavoidably big screens.


Elizabeth said...

I love this xkcd comic.

And although I have many objections to SUPERFREAKONOMICS, I think its chapter on terrorism was right on:

"The beauty of terrorism— if you’re a terrorist— is that you can succeed even by failing. We perform this shoe routine thanks to a bumbling British national named Richard Reid, who, even though he couldn’t ignite his shoe bomb, exacted a huge price. Let’s say it takes an average of one minute to remove and replace your shoes in the airport security line. In the United States alone, this procedure happens roughly 560 million times per year. Five hundred and sixty million minutes equals more than 1,065 years— which, divided by 77.8 years (the average U.S. life expectancy at birth), yields a total of nearly 14 person- lives. So even though Richard Reid failed to kill a single person, he levied a tax that is the time equivalent of 14 lives per year.

"The direct costs of the September 11 attacks were massive— nearly three thousand lives and economic losses as high as $300 billion— as were the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that the United States launched in response. But consider the collateral costs as well...

"Thousands of foreign born university students and professors were kept out of the United States because of new visa restrictions after the September 11 attacks. At least 140 U.S. corporations exploited the ensuing stock- market decline by illegally backdating stock options. In New York City, so many police resources were shifted to terrorism that other areas— the Cold Case Squad, for one, as well as anti- Mafia units— were neglected. A similar pattern was repeated on the national level. Money and manpower that otherwise would have been spent chasing financial scoundrels were instead diverted to chasing terrorists— perhaps contributing to, or at least exacerbating, the recent financial meltdown."

The terrorists are winning, hands-down.

Ellen said...

I'm inclined to agree with you, especially now that it's come out that we had warnings about the guy that, for whatever reason, the powers that be chose to ignore.