A very enlightened post in the New York Times blog “Jet Lagged” focuses the bright, harsh light of reality on the highly questionable reasons for and procedures implementing security forced upon the traveling public by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Patrick Smith, an air carrier pilot and author, describes in The Airport Security Follies, how the current passenger screening practices are “irrational, wasteful, and pointless.” For example, he explains why screening passengers for sharp objects is basically a waste of time:
In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.
For several reasons — particularly the awareness of passengers and crew — just the opposite is true today. Any hijacker would face a planeload of angry and frightened people ready to fight back. Say what you want of terrorists, they cannot afford to waste time and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure. And thus the September 11th template is all but useless to potential hijackers.
Smith also covers the questionable basis of the infamous 3-1-1 Rule and the positively silly practice of screening air carrier pilots and cabin crew in the same manner as the public.
Unfortunately, wrapped in its patriotic cloak of anti-terror, TSA is operating virtually without oversight, with broad powers and a heavy hammer for anyone who questions their methods or motives: the dreaded No-Fly List. Will this Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely? Has it already?
More importantly, can you avoid this senseless drill, but still get to work/vacation/home? In many cases, YES, you can. The answer? Be your own pilot. Yes, the cost and time investment is relatively high for someone who currently is not a pilot. But increasingly I see and hear other professionals who have thrown off the shackles of TSA screening and airline abuse to fly themselves. I gladly incur the added cost and personal responsibility of being my own pilot in exchange for avoiding TSA and the airlines. In many cases, by avoiding the need to arrive at the airport hours early for screening, avoiding airline delays, using airports closer to my destination, and getting a free shuttle ride, courtesy car, rental car or taxi from the FBO (rather than waiting for baggage, the rental car shuttle, renting a car…) there is no time penalty for trips up to about 500 miles using a piston single airplane. And the trip itself? Priceless!
Through programs such as the industry-sponsored “Be A Pilot” you can find the resources you need to learn to fly. The cost? If you can afford a Harley, BMW, bass boat, or RV, you should have little trouble budgeting flying lessons. Depending on your company’s travel policies, you could even have most or all of your flying cost covered. Of course, if you are the boss, the decision is yours! It’s not the answer for everyone. But if you are motivated (and that is why you are successful, eh?) it is something to consider.
Wave “Bye” to the airline terminal as you taxi past for departure in your plane (even if it’s a rental), on your own schedule, as pilot in command. Oh, and with your own toothpaste, shampoo, drinking water, and maybe even a pair of scissors!