Wednesday, April 07, 2004

I Hate Airport Security

Timothy Noah asks:
Let's suppose—just suppose—that the No-Fly List has caused only one terrorist not to board an airplane with a sharp tool or explosive shoes. Wouldn't that still be worth these mild inconveniences? Of course it would. I don't mind being the haystack, because Sept. 11 taught me that there are needles out there.
My reply: no, that would not still be worth these inconveniences. Especially if it was a "sharp tool" we were saved from, since anybody with half a brain could get a sharp tool on an airplane. For instance, they let you bring wine bottles and cans of soda on; turning either of those into a sharp tool is left as an exercise for the reader. The "benefit" side of the current security regime is essentially nonexistent; I suspect, if anything, it makes us slightly less safe from terrorists would having no search at all or leaving it up to the airlines to set their own policies. (How does it make us less safe? By instilling a false sense of security in the passengers and by disarming those - including militrary-trained pilots - who might otherwise be better equipped to defend the plane in an emergency)

But let's look at the cost side of it. Millions of airline passengers having to waste an extra half-hour at the airport is a huge cost. It may seem insignificant to some individual passengers, but it adds up. And the cost isn't just in time and money, it's also in lives.

Our current level of airport security causes enough additional delay, cost, and uncertainty that many people on the margin will choose to drive instead of fly on long trips. Some of those people will die in car accidents they wouldn't have had if they had taken a plane.

So let us suppose—just suppose—the no-fly list has caused only one family to die in an unnecessary car crash. Wouldn't that be worth getting rid of it?