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Air Security Mess

By Adrian

To all my loyal fans — and I know there is at least one or two of you — I’m back. I was out in the great state of Texas for some family business but have happily returned to New York (despite American Airline’s best effort to keep me home). I’ll confess: I’ve been so busy that I just haven’t had time to keep up with politics. So, I want to do something a little different. I want to address an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I plan to send the following letter to both candidates.

Dear Senator McCain/Obama,

It wasn’t that long ago that I accompanied my best friend Daniel through security at LAX. It was August 2001, and Daniel had just helped me move from Texas to California for my freshman year of college. Daniel had never flown and was excited to board a Southwest flight back to Texas. As I watched him nervously walk down the jet way, I smiled and saw nothing but smiling family members standing around wishing their loved ones bon voyage.

(continued)

Roughly three weeks later I realized that that experience would likely never happen again. The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent airport security measures have helped air travel go from enjoyable to a nuisance to down right upsetting.

I am a frequent leisure flyer. I, like most everyone else, want airplanes to be safe, and my life secure. One way to do this is restrict air travel to a special few. Obviously, we will never do this. On the other end of the continuum is to pretend it is 1930 and have absolutely no controls. Obviously, that policy would not work either. The rigorous airport security measures currently in place, however, are more bothersome than effective.

While procedures such as inspecting all checked baggage and basic security screenings undoubtedly protect the public, over-burdensome and illogical security procedures have discouraged many people from using air travel. People simply do not want to be treated as criminals. To be allowed through security, a passenger must show their identification, remove their shoes, their overcoat, their suit jacket, their wallet, cell phone, keys, change, normally their belt and must take their laptop out of its case. If a passenger is carrying liquids, they must be in three ounce or fewer containers, in a plastic bag, and removed from any carry on luggage. If a passenger is “randomly selected,” they must go through a second screening. All of this happens before one even faces the poor service on board their aircraft.

It remains an open question whether all the additional screening procedures really make American’s safer. The Heritage Foundation believes they have not. In July 2007, CBS News reported that GAO investigators were able to slip bomb making equipment through airport security. The Seattle Times compiled a list of at least 100 airport security breaches between the fall of 2002 and July of 2004. All told, the evidence that airport security is more a facade that makes the unaware believe they are safe rather than an actual safety net is immense.

Moreover, overzealous TSA and Customs and Border Enforcement officials have violated passenger’s rights or come close to doing so on a number of occasions. The New York Times highlighted one such incident. An Italian national who flew frequently to the US was detained for 10 days. The passenger, on his way to visit his girlfriend in Virginia, was jailed without hearing and neither allowed to return to Italy nor enter the United States, skirting, if not outright violating, international law that allows Italian citizens to stay in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. While visiting family in Australia, my nephew’s 20-year-old neighbor related a similar horror story. While transiting Hawaii on his way to Canada, he was detained and “interrogated” for four hours by U.S. officials before being released and told never to fly through a U.S. airport again. His only crime: he had a one way ticket, normal for Aussies flying to work in Canada for six months, but enough to arouse the suspicion of overzealous U.S. law enforcement officials. One of my former teachers relayed another story: one of his closest friends, a middle-aged European on his way to South America via Miami, was similarly detained.

America’s reputation abroad has suffered because of the War in Iraq and also because of the proliferation of stories highlighting American xenophobia. America has no reason to treat law abiding foreigners who want to visit this country, or foreigners who are merely transiting a US airport with such disrespect. The federal government should not institute and defend porous airport security procedures that inconvenience millions of American fliers without making skies substantially safer.

The air travel industry is hurting immensely — inconveniencing travelers and discouraging foreign tourism is not only a public relations failure, it is a policy that hurts America’s economy without making it considerably safer. Consider this: while international air travel is up overall, the United States saw only 100,000 more air travelers in 2006 than in 2000. Travel from Europe, Asia, South America and all nations besides Canada and Mexico is down almost 17 percent: from 25,974,701 in 2000 to 21,668,290 in 2006. While I cannot give you a firm reason, the difficulty and hassle of simply flying to and from the United States may be to blame. It is a sad fact that the nation most responsible for opening markets and creating our globalized world, a nation in whose national anthem portrays them as living in “the land of the free and home of the brave,” is so frightened as to institute policies that scar off foreign visitors and make the land of the free feel a lot less free.

We deserve a government of common sense, one that admits it cannot protect everyone but will do the best in can, using the best technologies and the brightest minds to find solutions that are least harmful to our values and our economy. What we have today does not match such a system. I urge you to make reconsidering and fixing airport security a top priority of your administration.

Tags: adrian lee

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