The recent foiled terrorist attack aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit has resulted in additional security measures for travelers to endure – and we’re already taking off our shoes and tossing out toiletries. The most recent incident involved an explosive ignited in Abdul Mudallad’s lap during a flight’s descent, so we are now forbidden to have anything in our laps and are unable to leave our seats during the last hour of a flight.
Were these new regulations established because we have reason to fear a rash of lap-based terrorist attacks in the final minutes of a flight? No. This is purely public relations. The government needs to be seen responding quickly and decisively to this attack and wants the public to feel they have this situation in hand. But, these regulations are pointless. They are arbitrary responses to a very specific scenario that may never happen again. Continuing to pile on these security measures will eventually bring air travel to a standstill and will do nothing to actually make us safer because terrorists will just find ways to work around them. Apparently Mr. Mudallad hid the explosive components in his underwear. Should we now be forced to hand over our underwear for inspection before boarding?
The answer to this problem lies not in how we react to attacks that have already occurred, but in preventing them from happening. For starters, the TSA needs better-paid and better-trained agents. Many of them lack proper training and are not paid much more than fast food restaurant workers. In Israel, security agents are trained not only to look for suspicious objects screened by x-ray machines, but also for suspicious behaviors and certain tics and tells that give away someone up to no good. They are trained in interview techniques and how to draw out information. Practices such as these have made El Al one of the safest airlines in the world.
Additionally the general public needs to be included in the efforts to make air travel safer. TSA security and Air Marshals cannot be everywhere at once, but there are thousands upon thousands of travelers streaming through our nation’s airports every day who could be taught to recognize red flags and how to report them. If we wish to continue to live in a free society we all have to do our part, as the passengers on the NWA flight so bravely demonstrated; whether by taking direct action to thwart an attack during a flight or reporting suspicious behavior or abandoned luggage prior to a flight. The best security measure our government could institute is to include, educate and train the general public in the effort to keep air travel safe from terrorism.