Saturday, September 4, 2010

Airport Security

I recently had the pleasure of flying from Houston to Albany, NY, the occasion being a visit to my parents. As always, I arrived at the airport more than an hour before my scheduled departure time, even though I only had a carry on bag. These days you never know about the line to pass through the security checkpoint. Thankfully, the line was pretty short and I was able to spend my time sitting by the gate, instead of standing in line.

As I approached the security checkpoints, I performed the usual preparatory actions: had my boarding pass and ID in hand for the security guard and then went through the ritual partial disrobing. I put my laptop computer, wallet, keys, cellphone, watch, belt, shoes and my bag in the gray plastic bins and prepared to pass through the metal detector, clutching the waistband of my pants, lest they unceremoniously slide down to my knees. I managed to pass through without setting off any bells and whistles, sat down to get myself dressed and while doing this thought about this ritual I had just experienced.

I suppose it makes sense to separate metal objects I guess, although these days I think most explosives are made of plastic of some sort. Taking the belt off is necessary because most belts have some metal in them and could set off the metal detector. Removing the shoes is in response to the shoe bomber, Richard Reed, although I suspect there are some shoes that could serve as terrorist weapons without any hidden explosives.

I thought about the “Shoe Bomber” and removing one’s shoes. Shoes at the time were a fairly good hiding place; something ubiquitous and unassuming. The requirement that shoes now be removed and scanned seems to be a perfectly reasonable response to that past event. But, wasn’t there recently an “Underwear Bomber?” It seems to me that an appropriate similar response to this new threat is called for. Unless this issue is properly addressed underwear will remain a viable option for transporting bombs. I realize that it is not practical for every passenger to remove his or her underwear while passing through security. The time for each passenger to remove their underwear and then dress would be way too long. Plus, I could see some people wanting to go through the line even if they weren’t flying anywhere. One solution would be to make it illegal to fly while wearing underwear. Of course, objections to this plan would inevitably be raised by the pro-underwear crowd and it is likely that the ban on flying with underwear would probably be found to be unconstitutional by the current Supreme Court.

Perhaps, random underwear checks could be done. Every tenth person could be required to submit to a thorough undergarment inspection. Passengers who objected to such violation of their personal space could be given the opportunity to declare that they are sans underwear, which could be confirmed by a quick peek which would add a mere few seconds to the security process. Women wearing thongs also could make such a declaration. After all, no respectable bomb could fit inside a thong.

There are a few other flaws in the current screening procedures. I’ve recently learned that terrorists are finding newer and more clever ways to smuggle their explosives aboard. Apparently, plastic surgeons are being recruited to perform breast augmentation on would be suicide bombers, utilizing breast implants filled with explosives. If this is true then a new line of security becomes necessary. Personnel with special training and very experienced in examination of the breast would become necessary to discern the subtleties inherent in an explosive breast implant.

With the changes that have come in health care I see this as a new and potential lucrative revenue stream for general surgeons and gynecologists who have suffered decline in income as reimbursement has fallen for traditional health care. In addition, there will be a need for proctologists as terrorists go beyond shoes and underwear and start carrying their explosive devices inside body cavities. In order to perform complete exams only proctologists capable of palming a basketball would be qualified.

It is possible that future screening procedures will require several stations. I can just hear the chatter: “Right arm up over your head…Left arm up…bend over…next…hey captain, come check these out…next”. I think retired doctors would be best suited to such work.

These security measures may seem drastic to the typical lay person. But, dangerous times demand appropriate and effective methods to outwit the evil forces that lurk in the shadows. These few modest proposals would go a long way towards deterring these desperate, would be assassins and would help make our skies safe for us and for our children.