January 7, 2010

Fight or Flight

I don't like to fly. I'm reluctant to admit this because it makes me feel silly but I do not like to fly. I think I mainly dread flying because I do it so little. I don't have that positive you're not going to die reinforcement on any regular basis so I look upon it with dread. The last plane I was on was heading to France. It was a wonderful flight, there and back. I spent the majority of pre-flight time to France in the smoker's lounge (which was really a giant glass box so filthy and fogged with smoke I think I smoked the equivalent of a carton in about five minutes) pacing. And I believe, sitting there in my seat clutching Beth's hand, that I actually muttered the phrase get me the fuck off this thing over and over, chant like. I can only hope I was doing so quietly.

I am fully aware that this is irrational. I am fully aware that I am safer in a plane than I am a car or even a train. And I am fully aware that, most likely soon, I will have to board a plane to take the kids somewhere not accessible by car. But I don't have to like any of those things. I just have to suck it up.

Given that and despite the fact that I have no immediate air travel plans, you can see how I was unnerved by a guy with explosives in his underwear (he wasn't just happy to see us) managing to get on board a plane in spite of all this supposed intelligence and precautions we have now.

Yet, on Christmas day, a privileged dude with a radical hatred for America boards a plane with a package in his package and attempts to blow the thing and everyone on it up. Despite the fact that he was on a watch list. Despite the fact that he'd already been detected entering another country without the proper paperwork. Despite the fact that he payed cash for the expensive flight and boarded with no luggage. Despite the fact that his dad dropped the authorities a note about his own son's suspicious behavior.

Why were alarm bells not going off?

In the intervening days, there have been two prevailing and opposing viewpoints - that the government let us down by not connecting those incredibly obvious dots meaning the process on the backend is fundamentally flawed or, second, that the government isn't doing enough out front - and here I mean physical security such as screenings, detection devices, etc - to stop the problem before that problem gets on a plane. And then, last night, some polls actually seemed to indicate that we the people think the government is making too big a deal out of this issue.

The solution? If you work with computers you know there's a host of bad stuff out there your machine can get infected with and a host of things you've probably got running to stop that bad stuff or kick it out before it even gets started. But for every one guy coming up with ways to keep your computer safe, there are ten guys finding a new way to bring it down. I can't help but think that the same thing goes for terrorism. In this case - and by sheer luck - the bad guy didn't win. But there are going to be more bad guys. And until we (the good guys) get smarter, it's going to keep taking luck to catch them.

How do you feel about flying, especially in the post-9/11 world? And where do you think the failure was in this incident? And, more importantly, what should be done to fix it? Would you subject yourself to a less pleasant, more invasive flying experience in order to have more secure flights or is the problem in the way the dots are connected?

Posted by Chris at January 7, 2010 6:50 AM

Less invasive? Let's see. My husband, a 71 year old man of Scottish decent, is pulled aside, frisked, and at times searched to a degree that I haven't even checked him out! My husband was an Airline Pilot for 38 years. He has a security clearance as well, and served in the military before his airline days.
Yet because of his artificial knees as an old man, he is scrutinized each and every time he flies. Needless to say, he hates to fly now and doesn't want to go anywhere.
I have only had one problem, when wearing a woman's suit and the agent informed me I would have to remove my jacket. I refused as I only had a bra underneath! Yup, you got it, I was taken aside and frisked.
I actually find it easier to fly with Anneliese than my husband. When I fly with my dog people are somehow nicer. When I fly with my older, repaired husband, we spend at least 20 minutes in security. Last time I went to grab his pants after they took off his belt and they started to fall and I was nearly knocked over by an over zealous agent.
No, I hate to fly now too, unless it is with my dog.

Posted by: Maribeth at January 7, 2010 7:41 AM

In my personal opinion, if you have a problem with the extra 20 minutes it's going to take to be searched so that we can be more secure flying, than find another way to travel. Take the bus, train, drive, take a boat. I think this is all a bunch of crap that extra measures to ensure our safety when flying is invasive. Like this BS with the x-ray/radiation scanners - We all have the same body parts and it's not like everyone in the airport is watching your scan on a big screen. Either get over it or find another way to travel. Honestly, I think the government is pussyfooting around the subject; if this is truly an issue of national security and they want to ensure safety of all Americans, than they should do whatever necessary to make sure we are protected, regardless if we might see someone's wee-wee in the process.

Posted by: Michelle at January 7, 2010 8:32 AM

I hate to fly. I'd rather take a train. And not cross international borders.
I've had enough US border guards suspect me of trying to sneak into the US, when I'm usually going just to Seattle to visit my family... under duress. I'm more than happy staying north of the 49th parallel. No offense to all friends and family in the States, of course. :)

Posted by: Nenette at January 7, 2010 8:47 AM

I'm getting on a plane to Portland tomorrow, but am choosing not to think about all of this stuff. Otherwise I might never fly again.

Posted by: Angella at January 7, 2010 9:20 AM

I am not a huge fan of flying but I try not to let it keep me from living my life. If I need to get somewhere and flying is the logical choice I just do it. I just try to remember the odds are in my favor and distract myself.

Posted by: donna at January 7, 2010 9:40 AM

Michelle, this post suggests that the extra 20 minutes etc. of screening is NOT making it safer to fly. Afterall, this guy, sitting on the plane in his explosive underwear was also probably screened too.

I want to know if this increased screening is actually worth it. Because Maribeth's experience (as an example) every time she flies is awful.

Posted by: jacqueline at January 7, 2010 10:05 AM

I used to love to fly. Now I hate it. And not because I'm afraid. Rather, because the entire experience is entirely without pleasure. And the salt in the wound, for me, is just how arbitrary and idiotic the "security" measures are.

Can't stand up for the last hour? Uh, and potential bombers won't think to take care of their business 1.5 hours before arrival?

For every attempt to make things safer (and I believe there are some fundamental things we can and already do to make things safer -- basic screening for weapons for example) there are dozens of people imagining ways to get around them. It's a losing battle, not unlike the "war on drugs" or "war on terror." Neither of those are winnable either.

We've variously had to: 1) take the Robie shoes off our 1yo (the "take off your shoes" rule -- for a freakin' baby?!?), 2) take the coats off our 1 and 3 yo, 3) dump out pumped milk my wife was planning on feeding to the 1yo on her cross-country flight..... And the inconsistencies are maddening.

The topper, for me, is that I'm 6'5" and haven't been comfortable in a plane since ~1997, when I was regularly upgraded to business class due to lots of flying for work.

I think the terrorists have won, given how freaking miserable we've made it to fly. What a farce the TSA is.

(Whew, didn't realize this was going to turn into such a rant....)

Posted by: pvz at January 7, 2010 10:37 AM

I have gotten progressively more anxious about flying over the years, but it has nothing to do with 9/11. I don't like being out of control, just sitting there and waiting for the plane to fall out of the sky. I have a Xanax scrip for when I fly, which I do very seldom since the only people we need to fly to are my in-laws and they are so rarely available to see us that we go once a year or less.

Also, I have 4 kids, one of whom isn't quite two, so flying is expensive and a pain in the ass. We have to take the baby out of his stroller and hold him, while taking off belts and shoes and putting laptops in bins and instructing the older children. They usually take our stroller away to a screening room so we have to keep a hand on the toddler while we put on shoes and belts and re-stow laptops, etc. We can't bring juice for the toddler. We have to buy the expensive stuff in the terminal once we're through security.

In short, I'd rather drive anywhere than fly. I will say that we have experienced some gracious and even funny ("Chug it or chuck it!") TSA agents, but still, I don't know that I'm safer with the TSA on the job.

Posted by: Brooke at January 7, 2010 11:41 AM

Quite frankly, I don't understand all of Obama's critisism toward the failure to detect said evil being.

After all, he did board in the Netherland's not in the United States. Hello? that might have had something to do with A) the breakdown in communication, B) the search.

I also do not like to fly and in the last 9 years have not one time taken a flight, that I have not been subjected to an extra search. At one point I was going out of town twice a month, so I was frisked four times a month. Fun, eh?

Posted by: debb at January 7, 2010 11:42 AM

La La La La I can't hear you. I have to fly in less than a month, and like you, I don't do it very often.

I used to love it as a kid, but as I grew older, I found (find) myself having to continuously talk myself off the edge. A rather ironic metaphor considering the consequence is actually that of which I'm afraid.
(ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put)

Posted by: harmzie at January 7, 2010 12:52 PM

Several years ago, I was sitting by a man on a plane that was acting all nervous-like, then took out a sheet of paper and started writing his last will and testament.

The one thing about the recent terrorist incident that manages to give me some small peace of mind was how the other passengers handled it. They didn't ignore a strange situation or panic and scream "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE" over and over. They tackled and restrained the guy, and put out the fire. It gives me some assurance that where security and government may fail, there are still regular people willing to take action against a threatening situation. I find that hopeful somehow.

Posted by: Amy at January 7, 2010 1:16 PM

Flying to Boston via London tomorrow. Point of origin? Amsterdam.

The thing about the terrorist who boarded the plane in Amsterdam, though - it's pretty normal that when you transfer from another flight at an international airport, you never actually leave the terminal so don't have to go through security again.

I'm afraid between the snow in London and the security measures, it's going to be one hell of a trip. And I have the advantage that I travel alone, travel lightly and have an American passport. Twelve hours of fun!

Honestly, if I could afford both the cost and the time off, I'd take a boat just to avoid the hassle. I do love to fly, though, so we'll see how it goes.

Posted by: Hannah at January 7, 2010 1:40 PM

I, personally, don't feel any safer flying now, I just get more and more frustrated by the "show" the TSA agents put on for us all while i stand there with my pants falling down, getting jeebed out by all the creepy strangers' foot germs I'm about to put back in my shoe.
This technology will not make us ANY safer flying. There will always be a new and improved way of pulling off a terrorist attack. Isn't the real issue 'why are we a target in the first place?'
I absolutely see this as another inching toward total lack of privacy and freedom in the name of 'national security.'
I can't help but think this event on xmas day was allowed to happen on purpose. It's the fastest way for companies like Halliburton to make the money grab.
When it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record of enriching private corporations with failed technologies, and there are signs that the latest miracle device may just be more of the same. The only people that stand to benefit from this new technology are the corporations that make this stuff, certainly not the passengers just trying to visit their families at christmas... Blerg!

Posted by: karma at January 7, 2010 2:13 PM

Before or after 9/11, my mindset on flights are the same. Once you take off, the rest is up to God/the Universe. If it's going to blow up while I'm in it up there by terrorists or mechanical failure, there is nothing *I* can personally do about it.

Once you give up that control, the rest is gravy.

So, before each flight, I usually make my peace just in case I don't get back. I call my dad and my aunt to check in. I tell Brandon I love him. And board the plane. In that case, if the plane blows up, I have no regrets.

Then again, I'm kind of zen about life and death. Heh.

However, for everyone else, here are my tips to make life better on a flight, especially the long hauls: http://www.oakmonster.com/2009/12/01/dont-leave-home-without-it/

Posted by: oakley at January 7, 2010 2:25 PM

I was a senior in high school on 9/11, I didn't really get out much before that, so about 90% of my air travel has been done in a post-9/11 world. It.is.awful. This guy should not have been given a visa in the first place. We need to do a better job of checking backgrounds and stop with the insanity of the visa lottery sysem. We need to demand more stringent security for countries with inbound flights. We need to deny certain countries flight access (you won't be able to go from Nigeria to Amsterdam to the US). TSA needs to put less emphasis on technology, and more emphasis on communication and actual, thorough security checks.
My husband and I fly cross-country once a year to see my family. He uses a wheelchair for airports and cannot walk without below-the-knee leg braces. Because of these braces, he
has to wear certain shoes. I have to wheel him over to another room, remove his shoes and braces (an incredible pain in the ass without removing his pants). Every part of his wheelchair is swabbed and tested for bomb residue, his braces are sent through the scanner along with his canes, which have also been wiped for bomb residue. The whole thing takes about 30-40 minutes from start to finish. Does it make you feel safer knowing every inch of my law abiding, patriotic husband has been checked while others just walk through without a problem? These checks are mindless and ineffectuve. The entire system needs to be overhauled (like most of our current form of government). All the policies in place now do, is inconvenience passengers and keep us from getting to the root of the issue. The system has not worked.

Posted by: Tess at January 7, 2010 2:28 PM

I don't care how "safe" people say it is. I'll never like it. It'll never feel natural, and it's NOT NORMAL to hover 35k feet in the air in a giant steel tube. Engineering be damned!

Posted by: statia at January 7, 2010 5:30 PM

I am with the other commenter who said they are not sure how Obama's administration is getting blamed for this. This guy did not get past US security...but another country's. The last time I checked the U.S. cannot police other countries.

Also, I have to be "patted down" everytime I fly due to my pacemaker. It's not fun, but if it needs to be done, I will do it. I love to travel and to me this is safer. In fact, I just agreed that my husband should take a job where he flies more than drives.

P.S.--I flew to Paris 2 weeks after the shoe-bomber attempted his attack. It was an incredible deal and when it is my time...it is my time. I would've rather been on a plane to/from Paris than on the highway driving to the job I hated! ;-)

Posted by: Krush at January 7, 2010 5:50 PM

Flying sucks. Not just the obvious dangers but also being forced to breath in the stale air and viruses and god knows what else from all the other passengers. Don't get me started on the people who are too large to fit in their seat and their girth spills over onto your seat and there's nowhere to go because the flight is full rant....
I am happy to oblige whatever (within reason) needs to be done to make it safer, when I have to fly, which I avoid at any cost.

Posted by: laineyDid at January 7, 2010 6:32 PM

I have only flown domestic. And I don;t do it all that often. Lately it's been less than once a year.

The last flight I was on was from here to Ottawa...on the TINIEST plane ever...most people had to duck to get into their seats (not me though).

You could SEE the pilots.

ON our way home, we flew into a storm.
Apparently a big nasty one. I actually thought we might die. Seriously. There were people vomiting..gross. People were gasping (not screaming...we are Canadian after all.)
We got dirverted to North Bay landed to pick up one passenger (they tried to keep a pregnant women from leaving the plane to toss out her vomit bag and freshen up...good luck airplane dude), when we took off...literally 5 minutes later...the sky was blue in the direction we flew and we stayed well below the clouds...it was the calmest 45minutes of my flight.

I don;t know why I'm telling you this. Just sharing you flying angst.

In 2011 I fly to France...I plan on drinking a lot.

Posted by: pamalamadingdong at January 7, 2010 6:41 PM

With this incident, I think it's much easier to connect the dots after something has happened. I also happen to think that many more incidents have been prevented. We just don't hear about the successes, only the failures.

I'm not afraid of flying, but don't enjoy it anymore with all the hassle, especially with kids. I'm not sure more screening will help. I've had a toddler's leather shoes removed (with much hysterical crying) and a cookie ripped from his hands to shove it through the xrays. Umm, he's already eating it. What is supposed to be in it? I think these things just alienate people and don't make us any safer. I was in Europe this past spring, and they kept telling all the Americans in the security line No, please leave your shoes on. It was just automatic.

I highly recommend the train when possible -- it was so nice just to show up 10 minutes ahead of time and climb on.

Posted by: EW at January 7, 2010 6:57 PM

With this incident, I think it's much easier to connect the dots after something has happened. I also happen to think that many more incidents have been prevented. We just don't hear about the successes, only the failures.

I'm not afraid of flying, but don't enjoy it anymore with all the hassle, especially with kids. I'm not sure more screening will help. I've had a toddler's leather shoes removed (with much hysterical crying) and a cookie ripped from his hands to shove it through the xrays. Umm, he's already eating it. What is supposed to be in it? I think these things just alienate people and don't make us any safer. I was in Europe this past spring, and they kept telling all the Americans in the security line No, please leave your shoes on. It was just automatic.

I highly recommend the train when possible -- it was so nice just to show up 10 minutes ahead of time and climb on.

Posted by: EW at January 7, 2010 6:58 PM

I enjoy flying, but hate airports. Mind you, I don't mind the security, and I'm all for the full body scans if that helps us be safer and through the checkpoints more easily. I just hate maneuvering the maze of ticket counters, gates, baggage etc. There should be happy smiling people there pointing you in the right direction. Every single time I get on the train that takes you from concourse to concourse or baggage in the ATL airport, someone asks me where they are supposed to get off. Because you just don't know. And when you get off the plane at one gate and you have to make a connection, inevitably your gate is a million miles away. It's like there's absolutely no thought in any of it.

Posted by: coolchick at January 7, 2010 7:09 PM

My family and I fly regularly. We fly a great deal internationally. The danger is there, but I don't think about it much. Fear shouldn't drive our lives. I'm sensitive to this as one of my sisters and my mother-in-law both hate to fly.

This could have happened anywhere. I feel the fuss is just because of the hatred growing for President Obama. How do you protect planes 100% when someone is willing to die to take you out? I feel we can always improve, but I don't think there is a way to make us totally safe.

The thing I have issue with is that I don't feel the TSA is well trained. The environment overseas is totally different. They talk to you privately and it is professional.

I've seen the TSA bully young men flying in from Europe, I realize their job and what they are looking for. But, I took issue with it as they were acting like bullies for everyone to see while we were in a holding room to pickup our bags. These men had just passed through security.

Will I be happy if I'm asked to get a body scan? No, but I feel we all have to do our part. I got extra attention and frisked a few years ago. My take was it was liberals day. There didn't seem to be any reason to why I got picked for the special line.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at January 7, 2010 7:31 PM

I also have an irrational fear of flying. I think that it's the feeling of not being in control of a situation. There are so many things that can go wrong "up there" that the simple act of walking through an xray machine so someone can look at my flabby little body really doesn't concern me as much as the thought of being imprisoned that far off the ground.

Posted by: rcat at January 7, 2010 8:03 PM

I also have an irrational fear of flying. I think that it's the feeling of not being in control of a situation. There are so many things that can go wrong "up there" that the simple act of walking through an xray machine so someone can look at my flabby little body really doesn't concern me as much as the thought of being imprisoned that far off the ground.

Posted by: rcat at January 7, 2010 8:03 PM

I FUCKING HATE FLYING. I hate every part of it - standing in check-in lines, going through security, dealing with claustrophobic conditions, sitting next to people (because I don't like people), taking off, turbulence, FUCK IT ALL. Unfortunately, I flew more in 2009 than ever in my life because my BF moved to Florida, then I moved, then I flew home at Christmas. So I hate it, but it's a necessary evil. I won't be flying anytime soon, though, not after all this bullshit that's gone on! (Unless Sully is my pilot!)

Posted by: Stephanie at January 7, 2010 9:17 PM

Honestly....the "thought" of flying makes me want to vomit.

Posted by: Lujza at January 8, 2010 12:11 AM

I haven't flown in more than 16 years. There are places I would love to go, family on the other side of the ocean who I would love to see, but I am just too afraid. I understand all of the statistics about the odds being better that I'll be in a car accident, but it just seems like the odds of surviving a car crash are probably much better than those of surviving a plane crash.

As for the new security measures... invasion of privacy? YES! But, if it's the only way to do it, OK, fine. People can always choose not to fly. Money talks, and if body scans cut too much into profits those scanners will be gone. That's not to say I think scanners are the right way to go. Where are we going to draw the line on our personal liberties? What point is there in being a "free country" if we aren't really free?

What I'd like to know is what are the airlines in Israel doing? After 9/11 we supposedly got suggestions from Israel about how to secure our planes. They included things like remodeling the cockpit to include a bathroom and changing the pilot/copilot's in-air meals to cold stuff so the cockpit door is never opened during a flight (reducing the risk in a hijacking) - that hasn't happened. And where are the armed air marshalls? There should be at least two on EVERY flight and they should be dressed to blend in and look like other passengers. Also, no offense, but look at the people working at the airport - if you pay someone minimum wage or just barely above it you shouldn't expect too much. Airport and airline security jobs should be tough to get and should require rigorous training and testing - and the salaries should be high to attract high-caliber people.

I don't get how this latest attempt is the fault of the Obama administration. As someone pointed out above, this was an international flight.

Posted by: erin at January 8, 2010 1:28 AM

Also - does this mean they will be scanning children and teens? How is that OK? Some adult who is NOT a doctor is going to be viewing full body scans of naked children? That's just downright creepy.

Posted by: erin at January 8, 2010 1:32 AM

I sure as heck don't enjoy flying, but I try not to stress out about it because sometimes it's just something I have to do. I have no idea how this guy could have been let on a plane. Hell, with all those warnings the dude should have been arrested and deported....
I would have no problem going through stricter security measures if it means that my flight will be safer.
Can you believe I've been on flights where we've delayed taking off because there was a problem with the planes brakes and there were people complaining about it?? WTF people! Aren't you glad they're fixing the problem before we are up in the air and trying to land without brakes?
I'm 100% for whatever makes me safer despite if it takes another hour or whatever....

Posted by: Rose Winters at January 8, 2010 1:37 AM

I am scared to death of flying. In college, I had to fly all the time (Basketball player...unfortunately how we had to get to games) and my coach would give me dramamine to knock me out or else I would have serious anxiety problems the entire flight. Even as a kid when we lived in Europe and flew constantly it was terrifying for me. I haven't flown in the past 7 years, but have tentative plans to fly to DC in April to visit my parents. I better start drinking now.

Posted by: Sarah at January 8, 2010 1:47 AM

Where there is a will, there is a way. If they strip search us, the bomb will just get on the plane via baggage or food services.

You're more likely to die by a lightening strike than by a terrorist so I just don't worry about it.

I think the TSA should be heavily revised, and that there should be a well-publicized training video on why a group of passengers can stop terrorism more than any other group involved in flying security.

Posted by: Brad at January 8, 2010 10:51 AM

please scan me. i want to know i'm on a flight with only scanned people. i'm convinced that the only people crying about compromised rights are fat and/or have small penises.

Posted by: kati at January 10, 2010 12:16 AM