Air Travel Security: a no-cost solution

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Looks peaceful on the outside

01/01/2010

Since the Christmas Day Crotch Bomber’s failed attempt to bring down an airliner, air travel safety has been abuzz in the news. In a typically reactive fashion, safety measures have been introduced to protect us from an attempt that has already failed.

Remember the shoe bomber? Since then, millions of air travelers have endured the ritual of removing their shoes and walking through the metal detectors in their socks or, worse, barefoot.

I don’t want to begin to speculate how TSA would tighten crotch security.

Since the latest terrorist attempt has illuminated several weaknesses in our government’s safety protocols, the other typical reactive fashion is to put lots of energy (and money) into investigating the people who are critical of the weaknesses. A couple of bloggers have been visited by high-level TSA investigators, interrogated and had their computers confiscated. To my knowledge, these people have not ever attempted to place explosives in their underwear.

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I think we are taking the wrong approach with airline safety. The airport screening measures seem to work at stopping the most obvious methods, so I’m fine with continued baggage screening. But that is pretty much the limit of its effectiveness. I believe the single greatest deterrent to any terrorist activity will ultimately depend upon the eyes, ears (and hands) of other passengers.

So here’s my solution (and it will solve more than one problem): On every flight, the airline attendants already spend a few minutes showing you how to buckle your seatbelt, put on an inflatable donut for water landings, and use the little oxygen masks that will appear when needed. At this point, they should add one topic: they should demonstrate four ways to immobilize another human being. If everyone on a flight is informed and empowered to act, then any suspicious behavior would receive immediate response. If you show a crowded, agitated cabin full of passengers how to kick out a knee, punch a larynx, break an elbow and gouge out an eyeball, then anyone contemplating a terrorist act would not get past first base.

This would be a very cost-effective method to intercept terrorists before they could cause serious damage. Really, it would cost nothing to implement, outside of the initial hand-to-hand combat training for the flight attendants. (And I’m pretty sure they are already trained in these methods.)

In addition to solving the terrorist threat, this would also eliminate a couple of other problems with air travel. First, it would make the pre-flight instruction much more interesting (imagine the play-acted attack and response demonstrated by two flight attendants). Secondly, and even more appealing, this approach would address much of the obnoxious behavior of other passengers. Drunken belligerence would be stifled immediately, people with loud headphones would be much more considerate of their neighbors and perhaps parents would think twice before allowing their little kid to whine throughout an entire flight. (“Hush, Billy, or that sweet little old lady sitting next to you will punch you in the Adam’s Apple.”)

Power to the People…right on.

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