The Illusion Of Security

At the end of last week a story broke out of Philadelphia, my base of operations if you will. A flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse, operated by American Airlines, was significantly delayed due to one of the most ridiculous security "threats" I've heard in a while.

An economist was flying on the flight, and before the plane pushed back, he was doing some calculations while he was on board. A seat mate looked over and saw what he was working on, got nervous, and reported him to a flight attendant. The pilot was informed, the man was pulled off the flight and questioned. After finding out why he was being questioned, he showed the damning math to the authorities. After that, he was allowed to board the plane and fly to Syracuse. His seat mate who caused the issue chose not to fly to Syracuse with them... wonder if that evil math stuff was too scary, or if she was just too embarrassed.

As funny as this story is, it really exemplifies the problems with how we've decided to handle security in the airline industry. There is a phrase that is often used in travel, "see something, say something." This phrase causes more problems than it solves in the end. Terrorism is a scary thing to many people, but in reality is extremely rare, and not as big of a problem as is sold to us. While it may be cold to look at it from a purely numbers standpoint, numbers is what I love and it shows a lot in my opinion.

More people die in car crashes in the United States every year, than have been killed in terrorist attacks across the world since 9/11. That says a lot about how big of a threat terrorism really is, it's very small... but no the less scary to many people. There in lies much of the problem, because it's scary, people push for all these defensive measures which ultimately act to inconvenience good people, and ultimately cause very little hindrance to those who actually intend to do harm.

Maybe this story is just bad sign of how poor the education system in the United States is that a person thought math was terrorism. Either way, it might either be time to stop with the whole "see something, say something" trend, or at the very least be a tiny bit more skeptical of every little complaint a person has on a plane.

Really, I could have classified the guy behind me as a threat on the plane yesterday, his snoring assaulted my ears for a full 1.5 hours... but alas he was benign.