Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fixing Airport Security

After hearing about this story this morning, in which a man used a fake Id and an expired boarding pass to get on a plane in New York, I had some questions.
Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi, a Nigerian-born man who was found with the stolen ID and up to 10 old boarding passes containing various names, was arrested Wednesday after attempting to board a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta; five days after passing through layers of airport security at New York's JFK airport to board a plane with a day-old boarding pass.
My first question was, how is that so many things that are a potential threat to airline safety get through TSA checkpoints? For example, a man can carry four knives through TSA checkpoints. A well-known myth buster, can get a 12-inch saw blade through TSA checkpoints. Bombs can get through TSA checkpoints. Guns can get through TSA checkpoints.

My second question was, how can so many things that obviously aren't a threat to airline security get caught. The bomb link above notes that a water bottle was confiscated. Toddlers are searched. Old ladies are practically strip searched. Somehow, a man with a fake Id and an old boarding pass got through. When asked, all the TSA spokesperson could say was:
Generally speaking, though, the TSA said in its statement, "Every passenger that passes through security checkpoints is subject to many layers of security including thorough physical screening at the checkpoint. TSA's review of this matter indicates that the passenger went through screening.
In other words, "We checked to make sure he didn't have a water bottle. We don't check to make sure your boarding pass is valid." Great.
I'm thinking that the TSA needs to spend more time checking the validity of Ids and boarding passes and less time worrying about water bottles and nail clippers. I understand that Ids can be hard to check since each state's looks different and very few (if any) agents can -- or should be expected -- to be able to spot a fake.

What if a passport were required to fly? U.S. passports now contain microchips, holograms, and other hard-to-fake features. The biggest argument against this is cost. While a typical driver's license is cheap to obtain, passports can cost over $100 and are almost as expensive to renew. What if they were as cheap to obtain as a driver's license?

Wouldn't it be a more effective security measure to be able to ensure that the person getting on the plane is the person who is supposed to be getting on the plane? That wouldn't ensure that no plane ever gets attacked or blown up ever again, but it would be a lot more sensible than the system we have to day, which focuses on water bottles and shoes rather than on who's getting on the plane. Partnered with metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs, we'd be a lot safer with a lot less hassle.

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

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