The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one

The TSA is relaxing the restrictions on pocketknives and some sporting equipment. The flight attendants association is not happy. Unfortunately, it is not about the safety of individuals it is about the safety of the entire flight and allowing small items, actually increases aviation security.

Shortly after 9/11, a documentary on airline security featured a flight attendant saying how happy she was that the air marshals were there solely for her protection. She was wrong. Air marshals, along with many of the other layers of aviation security are not there to ensure anyone individuals’ personal protection, but to ensure the security of the flight.

In fact, prior to 9/11 an air marshal I knew said that he would shoot through a passenger or flight attendant who had been taken hostage in order to take out the hijacker and save the rest of the passengers. Harsh reality, I know, but as they say, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. This would never be the situation on the ground during a hostage situation, but in the air – well, unfortunately we’ve all seen what happens when aircraft are hijacked.

Ironically enough, not looking for tiny little knives increases the security of your plane. Screeners spend a lot of their time looking for prickly little objects and then more time digging through peoples’ bags to find them. While I believe sequestration is accelerating this  change in the prohibited items, understand that this is all part of TSA’s risk-based strategy. Now is just good timing.

Also, we are not living in the pre 9/11 world. If someone today steps up to hijack an aircraft with a pocket-knife, passengers are not likely to stand by and watch. Passenger intervention is now expected when the safety of the flight is threatened.

As the effects of sequestration are felt, screening lines will begin to backup. When the lines back up, screeners feel psychological pressure, whether they want to or not, to speed up. This reduces security. Also, with thousands standing in the queue lines, you unfortunately have created a very tempting terrorist target for a suicide bomber or an active shooter, right in the public area.
Keeping the lines moving does more than just make passengers and airlines’ happy it actually improves security.
The TSA oddly enough did not suspend the prohibition on box cutters. Until they say something publicly I can only speculate that this is because of perception. On 9/11 box cutters became a buzzword as that is what many believe were used to hijack the planes. Leaving TSA to focus on larger, more threatening items helps improve the effectiveness of the security system.
Risk-based security does not mean no risk security. If you want no-risk airline security, then don’t fly.

2 Responses to The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one

  1. I could agree with all of what you have said, Jeff, only if I knew that the relaxed restrictions actually have been proven to speed up security and allow TSOs to focus on real threats, such as explosives. I don’t think that has been proven and I don’t think it will be. Since TSA only lifted the restriction on small, folding knives the screeners now have to add to their burden a decision factor regarding which knives do and which knives don’t get allowed on board. For this reason I reiterate my position that TSA should have just left well enough alone.

    • Great comment Tim. I think it will be difficult to determine if it will in fact speed up screening until we see the effects of sequestration, and as you said, maybe not even then.

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