Facing the Fallout from Security Hysteria

Rex wonders if increased airport security measures will push air travellers past their breaking point.

Read the transcript from this Point of View

January 7, 2010 

On Christmas day some demented al Qaeda type stuffed his underwear  with explosives- (there's a desperate Happy Dance) - and then tried, essentially, to set fire to, to detonate, his own  privates.  With smoke- there's no way to be delicate about this - rising from the bomber's crotch, a brave Dutch filmmaker intervened, leaped across a few seats and proceeded to --- "put out" his smoldering nethers. 

He, the nit in question, is now immortalized in Google as the "underwear" bomber - al Qaeda's very own Wile E Coyote in skivvies.  Yes it's absurd  But it's also, as the world already knows, a billboard illustration of just how useless the great umbrella of airport security, in some of the cases that count, really is. 

This guy had been 'ratted' out by his father to the CIA and the American embassy;  started out in Yemen, the latest al Qaeda badland; was on a watch list; barred from Britain;  bought a one-way ticket; paid in cash, and carried no luggage.  In fact, he did everything except wrap  his private parts in the Jolly Roger and put a stick of dynamite on his head to catch the attention of those who - we used to believe - are on guard -  precisely - to keep his type off the world's airlines. 

But if you - typical airline passenger - were getting on in Thunder Bay or Labrador City- neither let me note jihad central - and had four ounces of toothpaste in the wrong kind of Ziploc bag, most likely you'd be carted off for the full pat down, de-shod, un-belted, and given the cold frown reserved for toothpaste mules. 

It touched off a blizzard of ever more ludicrous regulations... no visits to the washroom on the last hour of flights - essentially a rule against ..... bowel movements... not being able to read, type, iPod, cell phone or Gameboy.  The back of the seat in front of you, always a mesmerizing panorama - the fascinating lint -  would be all the entertainment or diversion permitted. 

Up to now I thought the precautions since 9/11 had drained every possible comfort or pleasure out of flying.  The ingenuity of those guarding us, however, is infinite when it comes to multiplying petty annoyances, fruitless edicts, and ever-changing standards in what is - at least partially - the show of protecting us.  But, as the episode starring the jihadist ninja of the flaming crotch demonstrates - they are apparently blind to every obvious and egregious signal of a real villain. 

The question is - will passengers put up with these new measures or their offspring?  Or have we reached the last straw?  Will people now stop flying for any reason except real emergency?  Will this Christmas Day bomber, for all his idiocy, prove to be the one who pushed security just that "one inch more" that people are just going to stay off the planes? 

Unless, and until the show of security becomes something more sturdy than about contraband toothpaste, and five hours staring at the back of someone else's seat bent over in panic over the urgency to get to a washroom, I fear it will be so.