Ah body scanners. One of my favorite topics to write about (or hate on). If you have missed out on previous posts let me re-cap why I don’t like them:
* They violate our privacy. Not just people seeing your almost-naked bodies, but those that might have a disability and really don’t want some TSA agent to see it.
* They can be avoided. All you have to do is say, “no,” and you can get a pat-down. Not even trying, I avoided the body scanner and a pat-down.
* I hate the, “what about the children,” argument, but do you want your child’s scans looked at by some stranger?
* They already have been, and I assure you will continue to be, abused.
* There is now talk that these scanners give you more radiation than once thought.
* They cost a lot and do nothing more than provide a false sense of security for passengers.
Now Senators Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have introduced a bill to require all commercial airports to have and use body scanners by 2013. The bill is called the Securing Aircraft From Explosives Responsibly: Advanced Imaging Recognition Act. If that is too long for you, there is a fun acronym: S.A.F.E.R. A.I.R. Act. I wonder how much time they spent on the acronym versus seeing how this bill would really make passengers safer.
The Senators feel the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been spending too much time testing out the body scanners and need to get them installed ASAP nationwide. Currently the scanners are installed in only 48 airports across the US.
The bill requires that body images “cannot be stored, transferred, copied or printed,” and it forbids security personnel from having cameras near the machinery. Of course we all know that every TSA agent has followed all the rules already associated with the body scanners (that is sarcasm). I understand that most TSA employees take their job very seriously and do not abuse the system, but it only takes a few to make the whole agency look bad.
I have written a lot about these scanners and seem to have people just argue that they are better than nothing or if you don’t like them, don’t fly. I haven’t seen how the system is currently planned to be set up, how it makes us any safer. I would love to be proved wrong on this.
Since then I have found more information on one of the incidents. It turns out that the Trans States pilot who forgot to turn on his second engine, was not a new pilot, but a very experienced one. Michael White, the airline’s former chief pilot and currently its director of flight operations is the one who made this mistake.
White is stating that his second engine shut down on its own and Tran States is supporting his statement. Two pilots who were flying in the passenger cabin at the time said they felt the second engine was never started, which contradicts White’s story. The FAA isn’t buying White’s version of events and has opened an enforcement case to see if White is trying to cover up his mistake. The Wall Street Journal is stating that pilots have told investigators they have felt intimidated to back up White’s version of this story.
“We don’t believe that any member of management has tried to dissuade pilots from telling anything,” an airline spokesperson told the FAA. He added that the FAA has “never told us there was any kind of investigation involving intimidation or coercion,” of pilots.
After the incident White was barred from flying passengers, but has since passed a proficiency test and is once again able to fly.
I was able to speak to a Trans State’s pilot about this situation, via email. Due to their obvious fear of repercussions, I will not be using their real name. For ease, I shall call them “Pilot Smith.”
Smith confirmed that White is not your average pilot, “The Captain [White], who was on a line check (which is a type of test we are required to do, once a year for currency in the aircraft) and is our director of operations (aka management). He is someone who hardly EVER flies and yet dictates our rules and regulations on a daily basis, with emphasis based on punishment if WE (pilots) do not follow them.”
Smith talked to me about how much they love their job, but it has only been getting more difficult. Most pilots have to put their time into regional jets before moving on to larger aircraft to make more money and have better hours. However, due to the poor economy, pilots are having to spend more time and are becoming more experience. Even though they have the hours and the experience, they still are “stuck” in the regional airlines realm. Smith feels, “It is of the utmost importance to keep safe, fly smart, and offer the best customer service I can to our passengers.” However Smith stated it is difficult to do all of that, while having to work so many hours and being in a hostile work environment.
No matter what, Smith loves flying and will continue to keep doing what they love, “I love flying an airplane and will never miss the feeling of taking off into the great blue yonder.”
I have a feeling the truth about this will come out. The date logs should be able to show if the engine was started or not. If it turns out that the engine did stop on its own, I will be the first to apologize to White and Trans States Airlines. However, if it turns out that White didn’t start his engines and the airline was part of a cover up…well let’s just say I won’t be happy and you will know about it!
Don’t get me wrong. I fly a lot. I like my life. I am all about protecting it and those who fly with me. But, I am not about the TSA wasting money for “security theater.”
After I posted my thoughts, the TSA posted a blog titled, “Advanced Imaging Technology – Yes, It’s Worth It.” It seem to be a rebuttal to those of us who have voiced concern about the TSA moving forward with the body scanners. However, TSA’s explanation is short on actual specifics of how the body scanners will stop someone from doing harm to airlines and passengers.
In my previous blog, my biggest issue was people could choose to avoid the scanners. If you didn’t want to be scanned, you could opt to get a pat down. For privacy reasons, it is great they offer this alternative, but for safety reasons it makes no sense. Why use all this pricey equipment, if someone who wants to do harm can just avoid it?
Their blog does a wonderful job explaining how these high-tech body scanners can pick up the smallest illegal items, but nothing about how scanners can be avoided or steps that are being taken to stop more privacy violations. I posted the question directly to the folks at TSA Blog, but never got a response, even though they did answer other people’s questions.
Over on my Seattle PI syndication I currently have 45 comments from readers who feel strongly (on both sides) about the body scanners. This shows me there are quite a few other people out there that have grave concerns about these scanners. I have been told a few times, “okay smart guy, how about stop just complaining and provide a solution” (okay, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea).
I would really hope someone out there with experience in air safety, could find a better solution. Talking to people about airport security I kept being told to check out out how Israel works their airport and airline security. So, I did and what I found looks like they might be on to something.
Isreal’s security allows for greater security, but less inconvience for travellers. And it must work. Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s larget hub, has not had a security breach since 2002.
“It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago,” said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy, in an interview with TheStar.com. He’s worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world. “Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take shit from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for not for hours but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”
Their security is a multi-layer system:
LAYER 0: Intelligence
Before anyone even leaves for the airport, Isreal has strong intelligence network, trying to determine particular threats and dispose of them before they even reach the first layer.
LAYER 1: Roadside Check
Before you can even get to the airport, security stops every car and asks two questions, “How are you? Where are you coming from?” The answers aren’t nearly important, but more of how the person responds. Security officers are trained to detect nervousness and distress. Not the amount that a lot of people feel from flying, but those that occur when you are about ready to kill yourself and many others.
LAYER 2: Outside Guards
Armed guards are stationed outside the terminal and are trained to observe passengers. Any sort of odd behavior or strange baggage, you will be pulled aside for additional questioning and possible searches.
LAYER 3: Bag Inspections
Passengers that look suspicious or are just random will be pulled aside to be scanned by a metal detector and have their bags scanned.
LAYER 4: Ticket Agent Questions
Now, you have fully made it into the terminal. The ticket agent will take your documents and ask you a series of questions, the whole time, looking directly into your eyes, “which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,” said Sela. Again, they are specially trained to detect body language that would show the person means to do harm. Also, passengers are not allowed to group up, which would provide a group target for a terrorist.
LAYER 5: Bag Termination
Let’s say a terrorist has made it through the first four layers of security and still is able to get his bomb to the ticket agent. Every bag is screened right away. If a bomb or suspicious material is found, they do not evacuate the whole terminal, like you would see in America. Evacuation causes panic, more targets, and a huge delay. Instead, scanners have bomb boxes near by and a suspected bag is put into the box, which can contain an explosion of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosives. People within a few meters of the suspected bomb need to be cleared and the rest of the airport is able to go through its normal business. “This is a very small simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports,” Sela said.
LAYER 6: Body and Luggage Check
You would think this is like America’s security check, but Sela says, “Here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America. First, it’s fast there’s almost no line. That’s because they’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you.”
All these layers have solid security, but they also get passengers from the parking lot to their gate in less than 25 minutes. Now, that is impressive. Sela feels the TSA could move in this direction, but they are on the wrong path. “Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes … and that’s how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys.”
Yes, this is profiling, but I think it is the good kind of profiling. Racial profiling = wrong, behavior profiling = right. Sela said, “To us, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, white, young or old. It’s just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I’m doing this?”
Do the Israelis have a good security system? I think so, but I don’t think it could easily be used the exact same way in America. We definitely don’t do well with seeing people with large guns walking around and this system would be vulnerable to racial profiling. I do think looking at behavior profiling would be a better use of resources than spending money on machines that people can skip all together.
I am sure you have heard on the news about passengers being stuck in planes for hours and hours with little food and water. Is that a fun experience? Heck no.
When I was a teenager I was stuck on the tarmac for over five hours and it was not a pleasant experience. However, after the five hours I got to fly home to my family. My flight was from Seattle, WA to Reno, NV and we had to be diverted to San Jose, CA due to poor weather. With the new rules going into affect in two days, I could have been stuck at an unfamiliar airport, with no family and no real money.
Over the past few years, quite a few airlines have made the news for leaving passengers stuck on the runway for hours; passengers got angry. Some passengers got REALLY angry. They wanted the government to step in and make sure no other passenger had to be stuck on the tarmac for long periods of time again.
To me, being stuck on the plane was not a fun experience, but it is life, it happens. No matter the form of transportation I would have used, the end result would have been the same — delayed due to the weather.
The new rules, starting April 29th, state that an airline will have to allow passengers to disembark if they have been sitting on the tarmac for three hours, unless doing so would jeopardize safety. The new rule sounds like a pretty good deal for passengers in theory, but in reality, I think it will cause a lot more frustration, loss of money and even more angry passengers.
With the new rules, an airline can be charge up to $27,500.00 per passenger that is left on an airplane for more than three hours. That is a lot of money. If an airline sees that a flight might be delayed for three hours, instead of waiting, they might just cancel the flight. This doesn’t mean that the plane will just sit around waiting. That plane needs to be at the next destination. It might have to fly empty to pick up the next set of passengers. If it doesn’t, routes all over will be delayed and even more passengers will be upset and more revenue will be lost.
That leaves the question: Would you rather be stuck on a plane for four hours and reach your destination? Or would you rather be stuck in a city, sleeping in the airport for much longer…possibly days?
What’s worse is New York’s JFK airport is already known for their long delays. Right now their main runway is closed for some improvements. Because of this, some airlines have asked for an exception from the three hour rule, but they were denied. Remind me not to fly out of JFK for the next few weeks!
Again, this is another time where the government should not be interfering with the airlines. Already airlines get a bad rap if they leave passengers in the airplane for hours. The mainstream media loves to bash them.
The airline business is extremely complicated and that is when things go right. Throw in bad weather, aircraft issues, scheduling problems, huge pressure for the lowest prices, and security and you have a business just waiting for things to go wrong.
For me, I would rather be stuck on an airplane going no where for a few hours, than not being able to reach my destination. I can easily survive a few hours without food and water and waiting inside an airplane is a heck of a lot better than trying to take a bus.
The ditch training was inside a mock Boeing 717 with about seven rows. The flight attendants had no idea that fake smoke would be pumped into the cabin. I knew it was going to be dark (I had night vision on my camera, in reality you could barely see anything). I knew it was a water landing. I knew there was going to be smoke pumped in. I also knew it was all fake. However, once the training started, it was very disorienting and although the flight attendants were yelling to get my life vest, I initially forgot it and had to go back to get it. That could have been the difference between life and death.
In the video you can hear some laughing and we were all having a good time with the practice, but it was taken very seriously. There were only about 15 of us in that small cabin, but it was shocking how long it took us to get out. There obviously was no real panic or rush to save our own lives, I couldn’t imagine the chaos that would occur during a real crash with over 150 passengers trying to evacuate an aircraft.
I wish every passenger could experience something like this, to be prepared to react in a life or death situation, since reading the safety information card, just cannot prepare you.