By Robert Herbst
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, over seven billion passengers have gone through US airport security and not a single terrorist has been caught! For clarification, I am not a “security expert”; however, I am a recently retired airline pilot with over 35 years of experience going through security screening thousands of times at hundreds of airports around the world. Every time I was in command of an aircraft, I was also the official security coordinator of that flight.
There’s no argument from me that my view of credible airport security is worlds apart from that of the political bureaucrats wasting $billions on airline/airport security which – effectively – does little more than make airline passengers “feel” safer. Let’s look at some of the ugly facts: Just over nine years ago, 19 terrorists under the auspices of a hijacking, commandeered four US airliners, caused the deaths of over three thousand innocent people and headed our country into one of our worst economic downturns. 911 likely would have never occurred except for FAA pilot procedures which were in effect on that fateful day. What is virtually unmentioned by the media and unknown by the public, is up until September 11, 2001, it was a policy for pilots, as a last resort, to allow a hijacker access to the cockpit. Note: Cockpit doors, at that time, albeit of weaker construction than today, were securely locked. The fact is, the 911 hijackers had no weapons beyond some knives. If the “policy” then was as it is today, those 19 hijackers would likely have never gained access to the cockpits, and the world we now know would have been unbelievably
different. Unfortunately, but in typical, government, knee-jerk reaction, post-911, airline passengers have been saddled with ever-growing security procedures which have gone from confiscating finger nail clippers to the recent naked body x-rays and sexually groping pat downs. Since 911, the only two terrorist threats to US airlines were the shoe bomber (December 2001) and the underwear bomber (December 2009). Both of these individuals rang every bell there was to say, “Look I am a terrorist!” Both of these terrorists came from foreign airports and passed through security checks which should have stopped them long before they walked onto airliners. It should be noted these new full body scanners, would not have singled out either of these two individuals that checked in for international flights with one-way tickets purchased with cash and no luggage! Furthermore, it was the passengers and flight attendants who stopped these would-be bombers, not the TSA! Airline travel has and will always involve some risk to it. In the US, where approximately two million people board planes every day, there has been only one fatal airline crash in the last three years (regional carrier in Buffalo, NY). This compares with approximately 35,000 people losing their lives each year on the highway and half that many murders each year. One of the best known terrorist targets, Israel’s El Al airline, has developed one of the most successful security programs in the world. El Al’s security starts before anyone approaches the airport screening lines and incorporates layers of verification using well-trained, security professionals.
It’s absurd to focus 100% of our screening resources on 100% of the passengers when real life screening should focus on the 5-10% who behave suspiciously. Are those in control of airport security so dumb as to think a – real – terrorist would risk exposure by going through the larger, more secure airports? Do any of the TSA so-called experts understand any wannabe terrorist can simply avoid all of the hyperbole security by checking in at any one of hundreds of smaller airports that have no body scanners and typically do not do unreasonable pat-downs to include the touching of private body parts? And then, connect directly to any major airport terminal gate they choose without any additional screening? Do these TSA experts accept that weapons routinely get undiscovered by the TSA agents watching the baggage go by on the conveyor belts? Do these TSA experts realize how easily a well trained terrorist could hide broken-down weapons and even explosives in their carry-on luggage? While we waste our resources groping and harassing millions of innocent families going on family vacations, we completely miss the focus on those who should be more thoroughly scrutinized. Our military is successfully using dogs to sniff out explosives.
Customs agents routinely walk the international airports with drug sniffing dogs. Wouldn’t our skies be safer if we spent our tax dollars on training dogs to discover explosives and have them work throughout the airports searching out potential threats? Wouldn’t our skies be safer if connecting passengers arriving from the smaller, less secure airports had some type of secondary screening before walking across the concourse to connect to an international flight? Wouldn’t our skies be safer if we used the security procedures employed by some foreign countries and had layers of well-trained experts who, by asking simple questions can recognize those who appear suspicious? Can anyone explain why the very pilot’s we trust with our lives are expected to lock themselves behind a virtually non-penetrable cockpit door with full access to a crash axe? But before they are allowed to fly us to 30,000 feet and back, they must go through the same security as their passengers to make certain they aren’t hiding something that they could supposedly harm someone with? Note: US airline pilots are finger printed and have gone through security checks. Like all airline pilots, employees and passengers, I want and expect “real” airport/airline security. Unfortunately, what we have today is little more than a TSA government jobs program which is simply out of control wasting $billions and giving power to TSA personnel to grope your body and harass anyone they choose without legitimate reasons or repercussions for doing it.
# # #_____________________________________________________________ Robert Herbst is an independent airline industry consultant. He is the founder of AirlineFinancials.com which provides airline industry analysis and commentary for major US carriers. In addition to his consulting work, Mr. Herbst was a commercial airline pilot for over 35 years. His aviation experience and financial background provide a unique analytical perspective into the airline industry.