Security screening from a pilot’s perspective

The push-back against security screening at the nation’s airports seems to be increasing. An Associated Press story on the MPR site today documents the increasing frustration that pilots are having with the security rules.

“Sam,” an anonymous regional carrier pilot based in Minnesota has a first-person view of the scanning procedures today on his blog, “Blogging at FL250.”

All this inconvenience would be an acceptable part of my job if I felt that it serves some purpose. It does not. It’s completely absurd to screen the pilots who will, in less than an hour’s time, be seated at the controls of a fuel laden aircraft in flight, with crash axe within easy reach! This was recognized before 9/11 and we were allowed to bypass security. That changed in the wake of 9/11, but not due to any credible threat of terrorist acts by pilots or pilot impostors. Rather, it was believed that seeing flight crews forced to go through security would make the public more accepting of new procedures. This is exactly the sort of useless display that has become the TSA’s primary stock in trade, what security expert Bruce Schneier refers to as “security theater.”

Recent changes in TSA equipment and procedures have elevated flight crew screening from a mere inconvenience and exercise in stupidity to an outright violation of rights and decency. The TSA recently installed hundred of whole body imaging scanners, both of the Millimeter-Wave (Terahertz) and Backscatter X-ray varieties, in order to better detect non-metallic weapons and explosives. These machines penetrate clothing to create a nude image of the subject. Ostensibly this image is to be viewed in private by a screener of the same sex, and TSA claimed that images cannot be saved; both of these assurances have been shown by events to be false. TSA also asserts that the devices are perfectly safe and cannot cause health problems. Expert opinion is not nearly so settled, particularly regarding backscatter technology, and in any case there have been no independent studies to verify that the TSA’s health claims are any more authentic than their privacy claims.

“Sam,” he doesn’t use his last name, is encouraging people to participate in National Opt-Out Day on November 24.

Meanwhile, a German news site says the newfangled scanners are having a problem properly scanning people who wear pleated plants or blouses. Authorities are now requiring people to undergo a pat-down even if they’ve been scanned.

  • John O.

    The most thoughtful comment of the day on this topic came from none other than Captain Chesley Sullenberger:

    “The fundamental reason is that airline pilots are already the last line of defense for anyone who poses a threat to the airplane,” stated Sullenberger.