Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Airport Security, the joke without a punchline

I was lucky enough to read this ABC blog on the lunacy that is the nature of the so-called security measures that make most airline travel pointlessly miserable.

The poster of that blog makes several cogent points, right down to the concept that our safety really lies in our own hands; rather than relying on someone else to do it for us. Alert, on the ball passengers, supported by a well thought out security system is a viable solution to the challenge of terrorism, or just as much a risk, unstable people.

What we have instead is a bunch of pointless bottlenecks which mainly provide obstacles for a subversive to circumnavigate - rather like the higher levels of PacMan, and about as up to date and likely to challenge the average 12 year old. The utter absurdity of measures to stop guns getting onto airliners and then getting some hopeless 'Sky Marshall' onto the flight carrying a gun where he (or she) will be so useful against a group of dedicated terrorists... You may as well replace them with a weapon vending machine next to the toilet. Don't even mention the Aussie lunatic who tried to crash a domestic flight carrying Two. Wooden. Stakes. Brave passanger and steward sorted that one.

I'm sure most of us are well aware of the issues faced by the passengers. You might not be aware that the pilots and other aircrew are as frustrated by the fiddling about and non-secure security measures which affect them. They sound off about it here.

At least they don't have to accept a ticket, 8/10th of which is small print denying you of just about any normal rights we assume as human beings - let alone 'customers'.

Meanwhile, General Aviation around the world is suffering from the need to lock up all airfields everywhere. The days of kids being able to turn up on their pushbikes and help out in hangars seem to be over, and some clown with a badge makes sure anyone likely to have fun on an airfield has their day spoilt. General aviation is where the airline pilots start; it's where the idea that you can travel, see the world, go as you please has flourished in tough conditions. It's getting a tough ride even in the US with an ironic report showing that general aviation accidents have been on a downturn - great - but that's because there are fewer people flying less often. In actual terms (accident per flying hours) the numbers are up. Security and statistics.

The US regulators, like so many other bureaucrats, have worked out that the best way to stop accidents is to just stop people moving around. High ho for the safe, secure padded cell. That would be the end in one way, but the cherry on top would be the piped 'security announcements' I'm sure they'd relay in to your cell with the soft walls. Our last Qantas captain was very Australian. "You are all sensible passengers I'm sure. I am required to tell you not to gather by the toilets at the rear of the aircraft. This is an American Homeland Security Requirement. Thank you, now carry on as before." He'd presumably triggered off the mic before adding 'Security Drongoes.'

I look forward to travelling, because arriving's now the point. The hopeful traveller is beaten out of you by fat, stupid security drones who couldn't catch a cold let alone someone required over the PA as "Paging Mr Al Kyder" and while I have, as Molesworth sa '0 intrest in modn av' my world map is built around good and bad airports. LAX (Los Angeles Airport) is a pit that should be the shame of the US (The JDK award for Worst First World Airport, has been won several years in a row by this excrescence in California) while Heathrow has managed to excel itself in confusion with the grand opening by Betty II of the new Terminal 5 after which the whole house of cards collapsed so badly that they had to even fire some of the suits. The similarity of US and UK cultures can be found in this particular pit of gross human failure to organise. A David Attenborough programme on the topic would be interesting. "Why these creatures move this way remains a mystery. But they do, futilely walking in ever slower circles until exhaustion and death claims them..."

And that's just the airport management.

Thankfully our local, Melbourne Tullamarine is that rare thing - an airport with more facilities than it needs, and it's the end of the line, rather than a hub. Likewise Vancouver gets top marks from us, when travelling through. Maybe it's smelling the maple or gum trees of home that give them something special?

Once airline travel was romantic, and amazing (and thunderingly expensive - well out of our reach). Reading up on the tragic accidents of the 1920s and 30s quickly disillusion you of the realities of how safe aircraft are today compared to then. Still I'll always be after a flying boat flight.

Flying as fun. What a quaint idea!

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