Public Comment

Solving the Air Scare Dilemma

By Gar Smith
Thursday January 21, 2010 - 09:32:00 AM

Thanks to a would-be Jockey-short Jihadist with three ounces of powdered explosive in his shorts, I recently found myself flying back to the U.S. smack in the midst of air travel’s Scared New World. The prospect of being denied access to a bathroom during the last hour of flight left me pondering the creative repurposing of airsickness bags. 

If spending $75 billion on intelligence can’t protect us from an engineering student with a pinch of PETN in his briefs, maybe it’s time to rethink our approach. Here are several simple, low-cost solutions that I managed to jot down on my in-flight snack napkin: 

• Require that passengers be handcuffed in flight. Planes could be easily retrofitted with seat belts AND arm belts. A “convenience button” on the armrests could summons cabin attendants to release passengers and escort them safely to and from the lavatory. 

• Sedate passengers for the duration. After all, there’s not much to stay awake for when there are no free meals, in-flight movies or laptop time. A bonus: the airlines would be able to guarantee that passengers would arrive at their destination “relaxed and refreshed.” (And if the unthinkable were to happen, family members would have the comfort that comes from knowing their loved ones died peacefully in their sleep.) 

• Disburse gift baskets of Depends™ (since the the last thing you want to worry about while flying intercontinental is incontinence); instead of trying to check everyone’s underwear, passengers could simply swap their undies for TSA-approved diapers. 

• Require that passengers wear boxing gloves. Just try pushing hidden detonator buttons or operating syringes while wearing a pair of Everlast Protex sparring gloves. Can’t be done. 

• Replace complimentary sleep masks with complimentary blindfolds that would remain in place from takeoff to landing. Another option: Gitmo-style head-hoods. In the event of an emergency, head-hoods could also serve as emergency oxygen masks—a particularly useful option if your hands are (1) strapped to your armrest or (2) enclosed in boxing gloves. 

• The push for pricey machines that allow security clerks to peer beneath clothing suggests yet another avenue for air-safety advocates. Once travelers become accustomed to the indignity of strangers peeping beneath their outerwear, it is only a small step to requiring the “enhanced security” that comes from flying nude.The concept could be introduced incrementally with discount fares for “clothing-optional” travel. (“Would you prefer the clothing or the non-clothing section?”) For onboard comfort, passengers could be issued full-body jumpsuits. They would, of course, be transparent. This would speed the boarding process by replacing the tedious task of removing—and redonning—shoes, belts, and watches with a Total-Self-Strip-Search. Upon reaching their destination, passengers would reclaim their clothing at the baggage carousels. (Admittedly, clothes will sometimes wind up at another airport: Some modern air travel problems will never be solved.) 

• Finally, for greater safety, passengers’ feet could be chained to the floor to prevent anyone from bolting from their seats to storm the cockpit. 

Add it all up and you’ve got the kind of proven Pentagon-level security used to ferry enemy combatants from the battlescapes of Afghanistan to the battlements of Guantanamo. 

Of course there’s an easier, cheaper way to avoid Terror in the Air: Go Greyhound. 


Gar Smith is a Berkeley-based writer and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War.