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Ban All Carry-On Luggage? September 12, 2006

Posted by gordonwatts in life, science.

The New York Time’s Sunday editorial page made the case:

In a directive whose logic is not always apparent, the Transportation Security Administration has spelled out what airline passengers can carry on board with them, what must be placed in checked luggage, and what can’t go on the plane at all.

The ban on liquids surely makes sense given the lack of a reliable, efficient way to detect liquid explosives on the passenger screening line. But the other fine distinctions in this directive make us think the best approach would be a ban on virtually all carry-on items, or at least a limit of one small personal bag per passenger to tote travel documents, keys, vital medications, reading materials and any other minimal items that are allowed.

They have picked up on something troubling: when something like this doesn’t seem to make sense — when it seems like the authors have gone through contortions to make it work… well, in physics we call that fine tuning of a theory. It doesn’t always mean a theory is bad, but certainly that it should get a closer look. In that sense, I think the New York Times is right to call the directive into question.

But to ban everything? Certain body cavities can hold liquids without too much effort. Denying medicines seems a little crazy too. How about some synthetic materials that once lit burn amazingly hot and might melt through the cabin walls and destroy important hydraulics? Ban all clothes! Every airline would be forced to upgrade the climate control systems!

And there was a phrase that really sent me off when they pointed out the real rub with this (for me and lots of other business travelers):

Separating people from their laptops during flights would be painful, although some people could surely use the time to go over reading material, or even revert to pen and paper.

I rarely use paper anymore! And I bet the younger generation will do it even less than I do. My TabletPC contains all the papers I want to read. I can leave markings on them, and then file them away or send my marked up papers on to others. Much lighter than carrying around a large briefcase of paper! Of course, I can read a paper all the way from Portland to Copenhagen. I can read my tablet only about 1/2 way there…

My wife wondered, sarcastically, if they should just let the airlines determine the safety level. You willing to travel on an airline that allowed guns on board? Go for UnitedNRAirlines! Want no box-cutters, then go for AmericansWithOutTeeth airline!

In the end we will never make airplanes 100% safe. Money spent to make them 100% safe is better spent on routing out the causes of terrorism. The question is… what is acceptable. Where do you draw the line?

Hey — I wonder if they will design the Boeing 787 to make it harder to bring down by punching random holes in its skin, etc.? Move the Hydraulic lines away from common passenger access points, for example.

How cool is it that Wikipedia had an entry for fine-tuning??



1. anon - September 14, 2006

Just get your pilot’s license then you probably don’t have to go through all of that silly TSA garbage.

2. gordonwatts - September 14, 2006

Huh. I see the big airline pilots going through security. I wonder about the smaller planes? Good point!

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