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Lane Filler: Air-travel security just doesn’t fly

Finally, we have an answer to the 14-year-old question: In the wake of Sept. 11, why hasn’t there been another successful act of aircraft terrorism in America?

It’s probably because hardly anybody’s been trying, and those who did have been legendarily incompetent, which is how you’re remembered if you try (and fail) to blow up your own underwear.

It certainly isn’t because of the fervor and brilliance of Transportation Security Administration screeners, those sometimes sleepy, erratic and poorly paid workers who are our first line of defense against suicidal fanatics, wheelchair-using grannies and reasonably sized shampoo bottles.

It was reported Monday that undercover agents smuggled banned items such as pretend explosives and weapons through TSA checkpoints in an astonishing 67 out of 70 attempts. That’s a 95 percent success rate. I don’t even have a 95 percent success rate at finding a long-term spot for my car at major airports these days.

Those of us who fly frequently didn’t need this TSA report to tell us the agency’s security system is a slow, maddening and ineffective method of protecting planes and passengers. It amazes me that there has never been a reality TV series taking place entirely in our TSA lines.

Children whine, then cry, and their parents whine, then cry, back. And the extra-special travelers breeze through their extra-special fast line, essentially because they have paid money and undergone a process to exempt themselves from suspicion, which is both infuriating and a nice metaphor for … everything, really.

When you finally get close to the ID checker, the adorable middle-aged sisters from Des Moines directly in front of you have their tickets and driver’s licenses stashed at the bottom of purses the size of Mazda Miatas. As they paw for the necessaries, they run across pictures of grandchildren.

Then comes the ritual confiscation of nearly every toiletry I own, my bottle of water and my cigarette lighter. Sometimes. Not always. There’s no consistency.

Sometimes the TSA employees, who start at about $13 per hour, are efficient and kindly. Sometimes they’re sleepy, argumentative nudnicks. Rarely, apparently, are they effective at keeping contraband off planes.

There has been, since Sept. 11, a debate on how to balance inconvenience against safety. But now we’re seeing proof of what many of us always suspected as we sat on the floor putting our shoes back on. There is no balance, because this system doesn’t offer safety. It just provides inconvenience, and increased profits for the industrial titans I like to call Big Shampoo.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.