"Search for Bombs, not Nail Clippers"

By P. Smith



Salon Staff
November 2, 2001 1:30AM (UTC)

Read the story.

I feel like jumping up and down and waving a copy of P. Smith's article in front of the Capitol building, a mere six blocks from my house, in hopes of spreading some sense of reason to those making decisions now! P. Smith makes perfect sense and echoes the sentiment of myself and everyone else I've spoken with, none of whom are even in the airline industry, about the current state of airport "security." It doesn't take a rocket scientist, or even a pilot, to realize he's exactly right! Is there not ANYTHING else the airport security people could do to increase true risk prevention, not knitting needle and nail clipper prohibition, while we all wait for what we really need -- the bomb and explosive detection devices and the passenger screening ...? One can only nod one's head in wonder!

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-- Kelly Baker

I recently took a domestic flight to visit my family in Texas. I went through 12 total security checks. Never did the security personnel question the syringes carried in my purse! As an insulin-dependent diabetic, I must carry syringes with me at all times. They were clearly visible (without X-ray), and per the airline's instructions, I had a doctor's release with me. (Which raises another question ... how would they know it wasn't forged?) But I was not asked to justify these "weapons" once. I was almost disappointed ... "over here! Sharp object en route to plane!" Meanwhile, I witnessed a young family's detention while they searched every inch of a diaper bag and forced them to take the stroller apart so that it would fit on the conveyor belt, all while a teething infant screamed relentlessly. And I did see a senior citizen relieved of her nail clippers.

I concur with the author that sadly there is no way to fully defend against the possibility of a truly dangerous weapon making it onto yet another plane. As we've seen, zealous evil is nothing if not determined. And while I don't mind long lines and delays if it truly means the flights are safer, it seemed to me that the entire security apparatus served simply to make us all feel better. "There, there, you don't have to worry about getting stabled by an inch-long nail file." I don't claim to have a solution to the quandary, but I'm pretty sure that confiscating Grandma's knitting needles ain't it.

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-- Charla Skaggs

P. Smith is entirely correct in saying that until every tiny airport in the country is equipped to detect explosives in checked luggage, terrorists will be able to simply board in Manhattan, Kan., instead of Manhattan, N.Y., and blow up whatever plane they wish. And if they are not willing to commit suicide, all they need do is send a bomb in an airmail package via the U.S. Postal Service.

But the larger point is that even if we were to siphon off millions of dollars from productive areas of our economy in order to provide every tiny airport with CAT scanning equipment, we will not be safe. What if Osama bin Laden decides to send a suicide bomber with explosives under his shirt into a shopping mall in a randomly selected American city or town on the first and 15th of every month? Every mall in the country would be empty in 14 days and we would be gripped by a wave of hysteria the like of which our country has never seen.

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-- Michael Ossar

I've made two airline trips since Sept. 11. I didn't mind too much the inconvenience of all the security until I heard that only 5 percent of all checked baggage is checked. I naively thought that if the airlines were making such a fuss at the ticket counters and security checkpoints that they must be extremely scrupulous with checked baggage. Don't I feel like an idiot now? All these draconian measures at the airports now are merely window dressing meant to make us feel "safe." Why must we always react after the fact when tragedy occurs? How long will it be before someone plants a bomb or explosives on a U.S. carrier?

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-- Shelley Martinez

While reading this excellent article I was reminded of earlier stories I read on Salon about the failure of zero-tolerance policies at schools -- which resulted in good kids getting expelled for bringing nail clippers or similar items to school. It seems to reflect the same mindset by the government and "officials in charge": namely that there is no easy, cheap way to prevent these kinds of disasters (school violence, terrorism) but nobody wants to be perceived as ignoring the problems, so they simply focus on small, controllable details. Although keeping nail clippers and the like out of schools and airports will do nothing to address the threat of guns or bombs, officials can thoroughly occupy themselves with their new security measures and regular Americans feel like something is being done because they have to stand in longer lines.

It may be almost impossible to determine if a student is going to come to school with a gun, but there are so many effective (albeit expensive) ways to keep explosives out of our airports. It is depressing that billions of taxpayer dollars go to support the airlines, but the airlines won't spend the money to truly protect their taxpaying passengers.

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-- H. Shapiro

I'm glad someone had the guts to say in a public forum what needs to be said. Airline "safety" measures at airports are nothing more than a huge joke. They have been for the last 20 years and will continue to be ... but if anyone has the nerve to question these ridiculous procedures, they are considered "uncooperative" and subjected to further inconveniences. I have a Swiss Army knife. I use it on a daily basis and to have it taken from me in the name of some notion of safety that is nothing more than cosmetic is both insulting to my intelligence and neglectful of my actual safety. The reluctance of our government to institute federal safety procedures and a new federal aviation safety service shows that the customer and passenger really are the last concern of the government and our airlines. Money and commercial traffic are all that matters to George W. Bush and his little cabal.

-- B. Lynch Black

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Forget the nail clippers and scissors, there is one sure fire way to prevent hijackings. Ever ride a modern roller-coaster? They put a harness on you so you cannot leave your seat. Replace those flimsy seat belts with safety harnesses and don't let anyone leave their seat until the captain declares "the ride is over."

-- Ron Cibulskis

I am an Australian citizen who was travelling through the U.S. on Sept. 11. I was not perturbed by the chance to fly when the FAA reopened the airports; I had every confidence that the much vaunted security would be implemented effectively. I hate to say I was wrong. I find it amusing that I had my nail clippers (with not even a nail file) removed and placed in my hold luggage. They can't cut paper and have enough trouble with nails, besides having exactly zero sharp tips. But this was not my main concern. I was on one of the first flights out of the U.S., I had no problem with the intense security, what concerned me the most was at dinner, we had a nice solid metal fork, and a plastic knife. My fellow passengers were equally bemused and several voiced my opinions, that one could do as much damage with the far sharper fork, than the blunt metal knives we are used to. Perhaps the FAA (or whoever handles airport security) needs to stop showing off for the public and actually do what they are supposed to do, provide an increased level of security, because currently the security that I have seen, despite the "increases" is still somewhat lacking compared to Sydney, London, Singapore, Amsterdam and Rome. Am I the only one that is concerned that these countries domestic flights still have a tighter level of security than the flights flying out of LAX?

-- Nicholas Finn


Salon Staff

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