On the lighter side

Do you feel secure? Are you confident that your federal government is doing everything possible to ensure that the tragedy of September 11th 2001 will not be repeated? If so, you will be relieved to know that as from the middle of February, passengers will not be allowed to carry butane cigarette lighters on airplanes in the US, thanks to the Intelligence Reform Bill which President Bush signed on December 17th.

Yes, the two hundred and thirty five page “Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004,” to give it its official short title, contains a specific instruction that butane lighters are to be added to the list of prohibited items. Specifically, the TSA was directed to “review” the list and add butane lighters to it. Butane lighters were the only item that TSA was directed to add.

Why were butane lighters singled out for such treatment? Two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden (OR) and Byron Dorgan (ND), had pushed for the change for more than a year after learning the Transportation Security Administration allowed them on planes. In fact, passengers are allowed to carry TWO butane cigarette lighters, and four books of matches, under the current rules.

Dorgan cited “FBI reports” that Richard Reid, the notorious “shoe-bomber,” would have been able to ignite his explosive shoes and blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner three years ago if he’d brought a butane lighter with him. Fortunately, he only had matches, and apparently had trouble using them in plain sight of other passengers. In fact there was considerable debate as to whether detonation of Reid’s shoes would have disabled the aircraft.

Well, the next time you complete a flight without getting blown up by a shoe-bomber, be sure to offer a prayer of thanks to our vigilant Senators. You might also ask them why the four books of matches are still allowed.

This is nothing more than another opportunity to get their names in the papers, and for the government to look like it is actually doing something about domestic security.

Think about all the security measures that have been instituted at airports since 9/11. An adequate description of them would probably take more than the 235 pages required for the Intelligence Reform Bill. Here is a list of the few new measures that might actually have prevented the 9/11 hijackings:

1. Cockpit doors have been beefed up.

2. The “Sky Marshal” program was resurrected.

3. Some pilots are allowed to carry firearms in the cockpit.

None of the other known measures, from parking-lot vehicle inspections to random gate searches, would have prevented that particular type of hijacking. Right up to 9/11 aircrews were trained to cooperate with hijackers because the hijackers were just as interested in a safe landing, albeit in some third-world destination, as their hostages.

Enhanced cockpit security is either effective, or it isn’t. If it is, then most of the time, effort, and money being applied to passenger screening is a waste of time. If it isn’t, then it doesn’t matter if they make everybody fly naked.

The sad thing is that everybody in the industry knows these are empty gestures. But it’s important to be seen to be doing something. Here are two quick examples of ridiculous empty gestures that evidently qualified as “heightened security.”

The US Postal Service declared that certain types of packages could no longer be carried by air, unless they were inspected by a post office window clerk. We have documentary evidence of one such package which was sent by Priority Mail to an address in New York. The package went by air to New York, where your friendly postal employees applied a sticker saying that it could not travel by air, and then they sent it back to Denver. By air. The package was taken to the Post Office where a window clerk tore the sticker off, whacked it with a postmark, and sent it on its way.

Denver International Airport has a main terminal located some distance from the concourses where the planes are, and which you have to take a train to get to. Next to the terminal is a multi-story parking garage. Immediately after 9/11 the airport banned parking within fifty feet of the terminal, just in case the next round of terrorist attacks involved blowing up the entrances to airport buildings. But you could still park there if you had a handicapped sticker on your car, because obviously no terrorist would think of stealing a handicapped sticker for his car


Meanwhile, our authorities can always count on some poor woman in the security line at the airport, struggling with an infant, a toddler, and three carry-on bags, to say “Oh, I don’t mind because it’s for our safety.”

We are fortunate that we have some wide-awake Senators who can devote ayear to getting butane lighters banned.

Need more of a punchy conclusion to this article? Easy. The reason matches were not banned is because… wait for it… they can’t be detected at the checkpoints.


What do you think? Please enter a comment below.

3 Responses to “On the lighter side”

  1. Shirley Says:

    In light of the recent death of 150,000 people, I consider this whole topic a gnat on the ass of an elephant.

  2. SG Says:

    Precisely. On the assumption that you were referring to the Tsunami victims in Asia, and not the similar number of civilian deaths in Iraq, or the similar number of deaths on US highways over the last three years, we find it astounding that two US Senators would devote a year of effort to this, and that the entire Congress could think it was important enough to include it in the IRTPA. But matches are ok.

  3. Airport Parking Says:

    If you think this is bad, fast forward to 2010 with full hand finger printing, shoe scanners, no liquids and now naked scanners – even for children. It’s getting to the point where even I don’t want to fly.

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