The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

About that Israeli airport security

I mentioned a few days ago that security at Israel's Ben Gurion airport seems to be both stronger and more convenient than U.S. airport security. Bruce Schneier reminds us about the problem:

[N]o matter how safe or how wonderful the flying experience on El Al, it is TINY airline by U.S. standards, with only 38 aircraft, 46 destinations, and fewer than two million passengers in 2008. ... In 2008, Ben Gurion served 11.1 million international passengers and 470,000 domestic passengers, roughly comparable to the 10 million total served at Sacramento.... Amsterdam served 47.4 million total, and Detroit served 35.1 million total in 2008.

By American standards, in terms of passengers served, Ben Gurion is a busy regional airport.

Simply put, the Israeli airport security model does not scale. Period.

The question I have is: why can't we have a rational debate about the costs of security?

Better security at airports? Look at Israel

Not only does Ben Gurion Airport have, by every measure, more effective security than at U.S. airports, but they move passengers through more quickly, too:

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel's largest hub, Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," [Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy] said.

Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of "distress" — behavioural profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.

In other words, more emphasis on people, less on technology. Will body scanners protect us against the next idiot who tries to blow up an airplane? Maybe; but watching people is probably more effective. Says Sela:

"First, [Israeli security is] fast — there's almost no line. That's because they're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you," said Sela. "Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes ... and that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."

That's the process — six layers, four hard, two soft. The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes.

Instead, we're investing in body scanners, which have created a completely different kind of idiocy:

We're willing to ethnically profile, do all sorts extra-judicial surveillance, maintain massive databases of hundreds of thousands of people who have some vague relationship to extremism, torture captives, condemn people to hours unable to go the bathroom on planes, even launch various foreign military adventures, but when it comes to submitting to a quick scan that might show a vague outline of boobs or penises (almost certainly no more than is exposed in most bathing suits), that's a bridge too far.

Something about that doesn't compute to me. And what I like about this is that there's no clear partisan division on this one. Everyone seems to agree. It just tells me that at some level we're not really serious about this.

No, we're not really serious about this. It's theater. And it will continue until enough people care more about security than silliness.

Once more into the air dear friends, once more

I'm leaving this:

For this:


At least I'll get there earlier than planned. I tried to get on the 11:30, but because the 7:30 had left at 9:30, and the 9:45 was delayed, they put me on the 9:45 which actually leaves (we hope) at 11. So instead of 7 hours at home before traveling again tomorrow, I get 9. I hope.

Update: Well, the 9:45 actually now leaves at 1pm, in theory, leaving me almost exactly no better off than the original plan. We'll see.

Dodging snowstorms

You know the truly fun part about traveling through O'Hare five times in one week in December? Not knowing when that will happen:

Delta [says] it is about to issue a weather bulletin allow passengers in 10 states to change tickets without penalty starting today through Dec. 27th. Those states are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and North and South Dakota. They are encouraging folks to try to change travel plans to get out ahead of any storms if possible. Delta has hubs in Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

No one has started pre-canceling any flights yet – but stay tuned. That may happen tomorrow.

At least, if either of my next two flights gets[1] delayed, I'll be stuck in one of my two favorite cities in North America. Sigh.

[1] Note to the grammar police (you know who you are): "either...gets" is correct because "either" is a singular pronoun.

'Tis the season to be flying

Once again in Reagan National Airport, our hero pauses to reflect on the great pile of snow that landed on the city three days earlier. I have to say, it really is pretty:

Another view, around back:

We even got delayed for 15 minutes by a motorcade: not the President's, the Vice-President's. Still, I feel like I've had the full D.C. experience.

Forty minutes until boarding...then I get to pass through O'Hare for the third time in five days.

Killing time at O'Hare

By this time next Sunday, I'll have gone through O'Hare five times in eight days. I actually don't mind—yet—possibly because this is only my second visit of the week. The flight to DC isn't horribly delayed, and I've got a good perch to watch the planes:

Gotta run. Time to wait on the plane instead of in the club...

As predictable as the weather

Original plan: Fly to Chicago tomorrow, then change at O'Hare for D.C. New plan: Fly to Chicago tomorrow, twiddle my thumbs at home, and fly to D.C. Sunday morning. Why? Because no one is flying to D.C. tomorrow:

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for the entire [Washington] area, starting midnight Friday and lasting through 6 a.m. Sunday.

ABC 7 Meteorologist Chris Naille says the most of the region can expect 10 to 15 inches of snow, with up to 20 inches in spots along and east of I-95.

Parts of western and central Virginia could get up to 18 inches.

What fun. Fortunately, American Airlines has already gone into emergency mode, so when I called to see what my options were, they said "any plane Sunday."

So, I'll see everyone on Sunday.

The world's favourite airline? Um...

A high court in the U.K. has ordered British Airways cabin crews not to strike over Christmas:

The dispute at BA centres on its desire to cut costs by reducing cabin staff on most flights and limiting wage increases. The airline’s pilots and engineers have already accepted austerity measures; cabin staff, notified of the proposed changes in July, are less inclined to compromise (though some have taken voluntary redundancy). On December 14th Unite, the union which represents almost all of the company’s 13,500 cabin staff, said they had voted overwhelmingly to strike.

The next day BA applied to London’s High Court for an injunction to stop them. The airline argued that Unite had not polled its members correctly: some votes were recorded from people no longer employed by BA, and the call for industrial action did not specify the intention to strike for 12 consecutive days precisely at Christmas. Had members known those details, fewer might have supported a strike, BA argued. The judge agreed, and ruled against the strike.

... Willie Walsh, the airline’s punchy Irish chief executive, was appointed in 2005 to knock such practices into competitive shape. He is unlikely to yield much ground to union militancy. It seems that BA’s core shareholders support him: the share price hardly moved when the strike was announced. Many reckoned that the benefits of BA’s restructuring outweighed the likely damage from the threatened strike. Estimates of potential net revenue loss over the 12 days ranged from £60m to £160m, whereas the benefits of restructuring were put by some analysts at £60m a year.

That court order can't have helped the union. Generally I'm sympathetic to organized labor, being a leftie with some knowledge of labor history, but the union here scored an own goal, as they say in Britain. I'll be on a BA flight in late January, and I can't wait to find out first hand what the cabin crews really think.

Too bad they closed the loophole

Want frequent-flyer miles? Try this:

At least several hundred mile-junkies discovered that a free shipping offer on presidential and Native American $1 coins, sold at face value by the U.S. Mint, amounted to printing free frequent-flier miles. Mileage lovers ordered more than $1 million in coins until the Mint started identifying them and cutting them off.

Coin buyers charged the purchases, sold in boxes of 250 coins, to a credit card that offers frequent-flier mile awards, then took the shipments straight to the bank. They then used the coins they deposited to pay their credit-card bills. Their only cost: the car trip to make the deposit.

Add that to the list titled "Now why didn't I think of that?"