Back to blog

How to board a plane without a boarding pass

See blog

Readers' comments

Reader comments are listed below. Comments are currently closed and new comments are no longer being accepted.

Sort:

PSH

Yet another reason to sigh as you go through the TSA theatre.

$8-9 Billion a year can't keep a deranged grannie from serially stowing away on international flights. Ranks up there with the 93% miss rate on weapons. As measured by TSA no less.

We could fund a lot of children's healthcare and school lunches with a fraction of TSA's budget. Indeed, 2-3 years of it would fund that other great folly: Trump's wall. Both will be about equally effective, so why not?

Wamboin

A key part of this review seemed to me the following: 'These gaps apparently persist despite the extensive (and sometimes bothersome) security measures that have mounted over the years.' As passengers we have suffered delay, restrictions which seem strange, and being ordered around by over-worked but often charmless and petty officials - all, it now seems, for nothing. It might be the case that what we have endured has saved us from a lot of terrible things (but is there any evidence of this: have people in fact been caught trying to do things which would have put us at risk?; has there been a cost/benefit analysis?). While it seems that if people look harmless and are persistent they could have evaded it all, anyway...

Aurelius512

An essentially worthless article. Virtually every security arrangement for access to virtually every organization requiring such an arrangement has gaps that can be exploited by someone who is sufficiently knowledgeable and sufficiently determined. If the most sophisticated computer security measures contrived by government agencies and giant corporations (including some that specialize in computer security) can be defeated by dedicated hackers, the far less impregnable security measures instituted by commercial airlines will certainly fare no better. Moreover, Gulliver conflates two unrelated issues: passenger duplicity and passenger error. The only significant similarity between them is that they are both unpreventable.

Aurelius512 in reply to Wamboin

You find the current system of airport security annoying. So does everyone else. But after 9/11, some airport security system is necessary. Can you suggest something better than what we have? Since you don't have the data on which to base such a suggestion, I assume the answer is no. And if you can't come up with a better alternative, what is the point of your comment other than idle venting?
You complain about being "ordered around by overworked but often charmless and petty officials". How do you know they are overworked? Do you think that charm is a necessary or important trait for security personnel? In what way are they petty? Perhaps what you consider petty they have been trained to consider important.

guest-aaawwwmj

I'll go first, then you folks pile on in.
.
.
Marilyn Hartman is to airlines as....
.
.
"Marilyn Hartman is to airlines as hackers are to the internet."
.
NSFTL
Regards

Wamboin in reply to Aurelius512

The issue is an international not a national one, which means that complaining to politicians is not particularly effective. Such issues are, rather - like those in *The Economist* generally - more suitable for discussion in a wider public forum such as this.

scott0962

A t-shirt with a picture of Bin-Laden worn under a coat. I agree that might have been disturbing if it had been noticed and probably worth some extra screening but how was Security supposed to detect what type of t-shirt the man was wearing? I hope the author is not implying that all passengers be screened to ensue they aren't wearing any under garments with unapproved pictures, designs or slogans on them--it's bad enough the TSA gets to see my socks. Can you imagine trying to write up a government regulation for what underwear may and may not be worn aboard airline flights?

Wamboin in reply to Aurelius512

Just two comments

(a) The situation is not the same as with regard to other service employees. Those involved in security arrangements exercise a kind of power over us that regular employees don't. In addition, if, say, someone behaves badly when offering service in a restaurant, we can easily enough ask to see the manager, or get up and go elsewhere. Such actions are not as easy in the context of airport security.

(b) That there have not been major hijackings does not, in itself, vindicate the existing arrangements. It is worth noting that: (i) these are rather different in different places; (ii) what was being reported in the article, suggests that the procedures are not working as well as we may have imagined (and that it may be a matter of luck that no harm has been done).

More generally, security issues require that we put up with things that we would not under other circumstances. But this - and the kinds of exercise of power that are involved - mean that it is really important that scrutiny is undertaken to make sure that power is not being abused, and that the measures in place are actually effective. If this is not to your taste, I'd be inclined to suggest that you might consider joining the armed forces, within which people may have to put up with pretty much anything!

Aurelius512 in reply to Wamboin

Regarding your three suggestions, how do you know that ii and iii aren't being done? Moreover, your personnel complaints can be directed at almost any large service organization that engages in thousands of daily face-to-face interactions with its customers. Some of its employees will necessarily provide better and more cordial service than others.
These inconvenient security arrangements have apparently prevented another terrorist airplane attack for the past sixteen years. Doesn't this suggest to you that they "actually work"? And just how would you value this benefit vs its cost?

Wamboin in reply to Aurelius512

The story had disclosed that the existing system seems badly defective - i.e. that it was not serving to prevent someone who did not have the relevant documents from boarding planes, even though the person in question had done the same thing repeatedly in the past. It is also my recollection that there has been prior reporting that serious problems have not been detected by the existing system (although clearly some actions may have been deterred).

While, clearly, something is needed, that does not in itself justify the existing system just because it is 'something'; and the report that was published indicates that in some respects what is experienced by passengers as an onerous system, is simply not doing what is required of it. My call was, thus, for a reassessment of the system and - as I indicated - a cost/benefit analysis. This is not something that I would be in a position to undertake myself; but because I cannot do it personally does not show that I am incorrect in arguing that it should be done.

As to the behaviour of individuals, I have been a frequent flyer over many years, and have come across some people involved in this kind of work who behave towards passengers in a terrible way, while others do a difficult job with tact and good humour. The pressure on some of these people is great (e.g. when operating scanners with huge lines of people behind them, or when people have not complied with instructions which are clearly posted). But some others are either petty tyrants, or the kind of people who should not be employed doing this sort of work - after all, horses for courses.

The key thing would seem to me to be that one needs: (i) to make sure, given that the system is costly and imposes a lot of inconvenience, that it actually works (which this article had indicated that it does not), and also that there is a cost/benefit analysis of what is done; (ii) that a simple feedback mechanism be introduced, so that things which are giving rise to particular strife can be reviewed, and modified/improved if this can be done effectively; (iii) that there be a checking of interactions between personnel and passengers, so that the people who are a real pain are re-trained or moved onto other duties: after all, if this can be done in fast food companies, it is surely possible here!

Aurelius512 in reply to scott0962

Knowing with certainty that it works is of trivial and purely theoretical interest compared to knowing that no terrorist attack has occurred on an airplane since 9/11. Or would you rather abolish the current security system and see what happens? That, after all, is the only way of really testing its efficacy,

scott0962 in reply to Aurelius512

Impossible to actually know if security screening is working unless we know how many attempts were actually made and prevented and how many attempts were considered but deterred by security screening measures. If no one attempted or even considered making an attack was it due to effective security or luck?

Aurelius512 in reply to Wamboin

Yes, there is a difference between private and public service employees, and the latter have more power because they are backed by the government and the law. If you think that many TSA employees abuse their power, your only useful recourse is to inform its administrators, your congressman, and your senator. Complaining about it here benefits no one.