The cost of flying (5×8 – 11/19/10)



Statistics guru Nate Silver has an intriguing view of the cost of airline security that goes beyond the groping vs. naked pictures debate of the last week. He calls it the hidden tax on travelers, and hits home with this part:

Other passengers may substitute car travel for air travel. But this too has its consequences, since car travel is much more dangerous than air travel over all. According to the Cornell study, roughly 130 inconvenienced travelers died every three months as a result of additional traffic fatalities brought on by substituting ground transit for air transit. That’s the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.

The Transportation Security Administration yesterday published a list of myths and facts surrounding the new security procedures at airport, noting that four out of five people polled think it makes flying safer.

But Silver says the high-profile screenings actually diminish confidence in air travel, because it conveys that it’s dangerous to begin with. “Many travelers, however, might read between the lines in the following way: the T.S.A. is making us go through all this rigmarole because otherwise air travel would be very, very dangerous; terrorists might be hiding explosives in their underpants!” he says.

Henry Pietrzek of Oakport Township flew last week and after going through the pat-down procedure says he’ll never fly again. “I’m not trying to be a wuss about this, but damn it, I should have more rights as a citizen of this country,” he said.

Tom Keane of the Boston Globe wrote about his experience today:

The agent firmly ran his hands over my entire body, head to toe, front and back. He rubbed his hands over my buttocks and in between. He put his hands in my pants and ran them all around my waist. From behind, he ran his hands along my legs, all the way up my thigh as high as he could go and onto my genitals.

These stories are spawning a new debate. If this isn’t an unreasonable search, what exactly is?

Has anyone taken Amtrak lately?


Minnesota, you are one with your furnaces and I believe this to be a uniquely Minnesota thing. My colleague, Kate Smith, who actually hails from Wisconsin, I believe (face it: same thing) even named her furnace. She writes today’s commentary.

The Smokeless — it’s quite a name, isn’t it? — was installed to burn coal in 1925, when the bungalow was built. It was converted to natural gas, of course, but its bones are 85 years old. You could tell, too. They don’t make cast iron like that any more. And there are aspects of the Smokeless that do remind me of my grandparents’ era, when the basement was a room made for the huge pieces of industrial-like equipment that made a house work. As the big old gravity octopus is dismantled to make way for a 95 percent energy efficient model, I’ll admit I’m wistful.

Natives, does this ring true? Are you and your furnace bonded? If not your furnace, what other home appliance has made its way to your heart?


We awake every morning to a seemingly endless stream of tragic news about the death of people, so why is it one about a dog stands out from them? Probably because Target was a war hero, and Target’s death was a mistake.


An Apple Valley couple is conducting an online poll to decide whether the woman should have an abortion. “I didn’t think it would go anywhere,” Alisha Arnold told the Pioneer Press. The reaction to the couple appears to have people on both sides of the abortion debate on the same side.

But while the couple insists it’s a legit quandry, some evidence shows it’s not.


An injured swan mattered enough to people in White Bear Lake that they dropped what they were doing to save it.


The use of body scanners and physical pat-downs has spawned a controversy over security at U.S. airports. Do heightened security measures affect your willingness to fly?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: President George W. Bush recently disclosed in his new book that he stands by his decision to authorize a form of torture called waterboarding. Midmorning presents three different views of the policy and the politics of torture

Second hour: Thomas Kennedy, author of “In the Company of Angels.”

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Retiring WCCO TV reporter and news anchor Don Shelby.

Here’s my favorite memory Shelby moment:

More Shelby: Al Franken roasts Shelby.

Second hour: TBA

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The physics of music, the science of sound, and the safety of airport scanners.

Second hour: A look at the X-Box Kinect, and how it tracks your moves. Could this sort of motion sensing technology revolutionize desktop computing too?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – More consumers are buying store brands as they try to stretch their money. And Target is one of the retailers most aggressively –and successfully– pushing its own brands. Store brands now account for about 22 percent of our grocery purchases, up from about 20 percent three years ago. Store brands are winning over consumers on price and quality. Consumer Reports says that in many instances store brands are at least as good as national brands but can save consumers about 30 percent on their grocery bills. Martin Moylan will have the story.

(TSA sign from Oleg Volk)

  • MR

    I have a friend who is flying with a 16-month-old for Thanksgiving. What do you tell a child who has been selected for an “enhanced” pat-down, when you’ve told the child repeatedly to scream bloody murder if anyone touches them in a particular way?

  • Adam
  • Zebulun

    Nothing confounds me more than the general acceptance by our society of 35,000+ American deaths every year in automobile crashes.

    We can pat down all the airline passengers in the world, but it won’t keep us from killing ourselves out on the highways of America.

  • Christin

    I’ve heard a few interesting and different perspectives on the new TSA screenings.

    The first was from a tweet from RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest national Network) that linked to a newsweek artice about the impact these screenings can have on survivors of trauma, who often struggle with PTSD and other concerns. Article here:

    The second was from a gentleman who asks in his blog why we are all up in arms now, when this kind of invasive search has always been accepted when used towards specific/targeted populations. He makes some interesting points:

  • bsimon

    “Natives, does this ring true? Are you and your furnace bonded? If not your furnace, what other home appliance has made its way to your heart?”

    Absolutely*. Though for me its the whole house as a system, not the furnace specifically. It all started with the woodstove…

    * I too hail from WI.

  • FC

    I chose to take Amtrak last week for a short leg of a business trip rather than fly or drive. It’s a much more pleasant experience than the airport, and you come off the train relaxed and not feeling violated.

    I haven’t experienced the new screening (although I’ve flown twice in the last two weeks, I went through the normal metal detector), but I’m scheduled to fly for Thanksgiving.

    I think I’d rather go through the scanner than experience the enhanced pat-down, but my opinion may change when I get there. For what it’s worth, if the scanner sees something suspicious (which can be as little as a piece of paper in your pocket), you still get the enhanced pat-down after the new scanners.

  • JackU

    First off let me say that I’m a fan of rail travel and have been for a long time. When people ask me about the time it takes I agree it’s a long time compared to flying. But it’s also much more “agreeable” in my opinion. On the train it feels much more like “traveling”. You can experience the places you pass along the way. Most of my train travel is to visit family in NY. Two trains a total of about 32 hours. I get to watch the Mississippi river on the first part of the trip, followed by the rolling fields of central Wisconsin. Then on the second train I get to trace the shore of Lake Erie to Buffalo then follow the route of the old Erie Canal across NY State, before riding down the shores of the Hudson river to end the journey as it started as a river train.

    I may be going to Orlando for a family gathering next spring. To me 3 trains, over two plus days sounds far more interesting than a 4 hour flight.

  • andy

    As far as the new airport security standards go, I wonder, how do the employees conducting the pat-downs feel about the new standards? Imagine spending your workday feeling up people who resent you, for doing your job. It would be interesting to hear their take on this matter. I wonder if anyone has quit due to not wanting adhere to their new, um, responsibilities. Also, do the security people get screened prior to getting employed in the first place? You used to hear about former sex offenders getting jobs driving school buses, you would really hope that someone with a sketchy past won’t be hired as the touchy-feely guy/gal at the airport. Just a few different random thoughts I came up with…..