It is becoming clear in the aftermath of the unsuccessful bombing attempt on an airliner near Detroit on Christmas day that common sense has gone missing in action.
The would-be bomber, a 23-year-old Nigerian Muslim radical, was on a watchlist after his father alerted U.S. and Nigerian authoritites about him, yet his name wasn't placed on a no-fly list.
British authorities refused to extend his student visa and barred him from entering the United Kingdom, where he studied engineering, yet there was evidently no communication about the man between U.S. and U.K. security. Another fauilure to connect the dots? Looks like.
Before boarding the threatened Delta/Northwest flight in Amsterdam, the accused bought his ticket with cash and had only a small carry-on bag. Should this not have raised a red flag, prompting additional screening? I think so. Twice, when I bought one-way tickets in the U.S., I have received additional airport screening as a matter of course.
With an explosive device concealed in his underwear, the accused managed to pass through security and board the plane. What happened to all the elaborate security checks?
Now, in the aftermath of the foiled attack, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has issued a set of regulations that include several provisions that simply boggle the mind. (tsa.gov, "TSA Guidelines for Passengers on Heightened Security Measures in Place Following Dec. 25 Incident.'')
Reaching the apex of reactive thinking, TSA has - in the sort-term, at least - given captains authority to ban movement around the cabin during the last hour of international U.S.-bound flights. Why? Because the apprehended terrorist made his move when his plane was being readied for landing. Could another terrorist not take action during another part of the flight?
Media reports say some airlines - apparently confused about what the TSA's new directives mean - suspended in-flight entertainment programs, including some programs on long-haul, trans-oceanic flights, when entertainment is badly needed. In-flight maps were not shown. Could a terrorist not simply look at his watch or look out the window to see where the plane is?
The last-hour stay-in-your-seat directive could be especially difficult for parents of young children to implement, could it not? Don't wee ones often have to use the bathroom?
Some U.S. airlines and non-American carriers with U.S.-bound flights have stopped passengers from using their laptop computers in-flight or made them put their laptops away during that all-important last hour. Doesn't this restrict legitimate business travelers who need to work en route? Will this hurt already ailing airlines even more by convincing bosses that staying on the ground is better than sending employees on business trips?
Word comes, too, that TSA and some airlines are limiting passengrs to just one small carry-on bag; all other bags have to be checked. Will this eliminate the threat of terrorism in cargo bins? Less critically - but still of interest - will stepped-up requirements to check bags cost travelers more money? Don't most airlines now charge extra fees for checking bags, rather than adopt the unpopular but common-sense policy of simply and cleanly raising fares?
There is evidence that TSA and individual airlines are relaxing some of the more inane aspects of the new rules after being very tight over the Christmas holiday weekend. We, as travelers, have to hope for a return to common sense when it comes to fighting the menace posed by fanatics who would bring harm to travelers and others. Safety and security in airplanes and airports is crucial; achieving it, however, won't come about by abandoning sound reasoning.