How the big boys do it

01.12.10

Israel to North America on airport security: You’re doing it wrong:

“I once put this question to Jacques Duchesneau (the former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority): say there is a bag with Play-Doh in it and two pens stuck in the Play-Doh. That is `Bombs 101′ to a screener. I asked Duchesneau, `What would you do?’ And he said, `Evacuate the terminal.’ And I said, `Oh. My. God.’

“Take (Toronto’s) Pearson (airport). Do you know how many people are in the terminal at all times? Many thousands. Let’s say I’m (doing an evacuation) without panic – which will never happen. But let’s say this is the case. How long will it take? Nobody thought about it. I said, `Two days.'”

A screener at Ben Gurion has a pair of better options.

In light of all the controversy in the news this holiday season about full-body scanners, a near-total ban on carry-on luggage to the US, and security lineups lasting several hours (except for celebrities), this seems even more timely.

On my flight to Tel Aviv last winter, an American passenger, going through the second layer of security at the gate specifically for flights to Israel, started to take off her shoes. The Israeli security officer just laughed at her. Israel also doesn’t give a rat’s ass about liquids on-board; my Ahava product purchases and my bottles of Yarden wine were just fine out of Ben-Gurion, but I had to transfer them back into my checked luggage in Toronto for the one-hour flight back to Montreal. No, instead, I get asked questions like, what were you doing in Israel? Where did you learn to speak Hebrew? What was the name of your first-grade teacher? It doesn’t take more than a few seconds for them to ascertain that I am exactly who and what I say I am, and after that, lots of time to shop duty-free.

Or, to put it another way, it’s nicely hassle-free to travel to and from Israel… as long as your flight doesn’t go through the United States.

The trouble is, implementing Israeli-style airport security in the US would mean that security personnel would actually need to be highly specialised and trained. Rights groups would get up in arms about profiling (done openly by Israel, disavowed publicly by the US), and the unions would scream bloody murder about their staff being replaced by people who are actually competent.

And hey, it’s so much more fun to lock down entire terminals, right?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jim Royal 01.12.10 at 1:24 PM

Agreed. 90% of what goes on in Canadian and US airports is theater, not security. I'm especially fond of the story of the airline pilot who had his personal eating utensils confiscated, presumably because he'd use the butter knife to hold himself hostage.

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