Having just passed the eight year mark since the U.S. was attacked by Islamic terrorists I thought it might be fun to review how far the airlines have come in their increased security measures. After all, eight years should be plenty of time to develop a workable plan of action to protect air travelers from the bad guys. So what has changed in eight years?
Well for one thing, you've got to take off your shoes before going through security checks. (As my mother might say, make sure you don't have holes in your socks) Then there are the no-no items that security guards will confiscate from you. Things like toothpaste, hair gel, suntan lotion (if over 3 ounces), gel shoe inserts (sorry Dr. Scholl, no gellin' on the plane), snow globes, and nail files are all prohibited. I never understood why nail files aren't allowed but ball point pens, which can be just as lethal in the wrong hands, are fine and dandy.
And because security guards are not allowed to do "profiling" (which would actually narrow down the ones most likely to commit the crimes) every single person is subjected to pat-downs and searches. Yes, 90 year old ladies and two year old babies can (and have been) put through the same security searches as say, a 23-year old swarthy man who may be loudly chanting in Arabic as he boards. (And because of possibly getting sued, the airline might not even search that guy at all)
Interestingly, while the cabin crews on airlines are put through the same level of scrutiny as are the passengers, the other airport employees such as mechanics, fuelers, caterers, cleaners, and so forth are not. They are subject to occasional random searches, at best. This brings me to the following news story reported just this week:
"SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Sept 15 (Reuters) - U.S. anti-drug agents arrested more than 20 people, nine of them employees of American Airlines, in raids to bust a drug trafficking ring between Puerto Rico and the United States, authorities said on Tuesday."
U.S. federal agents and Puerto Rican police swarmed the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan to make the arrests. Several ground crew employees of American Airlines are suspected of helping to transport drugs from South America and the Caribbean to the United States, an official said. He said 23 arrest warrants have been issued in cities across the U.S. Caribbean territory and Miami.
So far there are nine employees of American airlines involved in a big drug smuggling ring. Hmmm. That's great. So what happened to all the increased security that the airlines were going to initiate after 9-11? Where's the screening process for potential new hires? I naively thought that all airline and airport employees since 9-11 had to have background checks before they were given jobs. Guess not. See, I have to remove my shoes every time I get on a plane, but in the meantime American Airlines just hires people without checking them out first, eh?
If drug smugglers were able to get jobs as airline workers, it stands to reason that terrorists could too. Why not?
A statement was issued by American Airline following these arrests: "As a company, we hope that the actions of a few employees don't reflect negatively on the tens of thousands of ethical American Airlines employees who work hard to serve the public daily." Gee, thank you, American. It's very comforting to know that the other tens of thousands of your employees are not crooks. Now how about some information on your hiring qualifications? Yeah, I know its only nine guys out of the tens of thousands, but I seem to remember that it took only nineteen terrorists to bring down three planes, the World Trade Center, put a battleship-sized hole in the Pentagon, and change the way 300,000,000 Americans live their lives for all time.
I really hate to single out American Airlines because in my crusty, suspicious, cynical heart I have a feeling that the same permissiveness in screening goes on with all the airlines. American was just the one that got caught today.
You know, I spent most of my life writing jokes and funny stories. I enjoy comedy and I like writing humor, I wish I could do more of it. But every so often real life rears its ugly head and it's just not all that easy to be funny. I've been accused on more than one occasion of being "grumpy." I'm really not a grumpy sort. But when I hear about things like this American Airline drug smuggling deal, well…. let's just say I find it hard to be Dopey or Bashful.