Saturday, February 27, 2010

Security, and all that

There are several things I do not like about flying in the USA. My recent trip only served to strengthen my views on this. The aircraft are old. In-flight service is pathetic. Customer service is a disservice to society. Airline employees are often curt and rude. And security is a bloody nightmare.

I completely understand why the USA is paranoid about security. It's their sovereign right to impose the most stringent security processes in the world, if they deem fit. Which they do, and more. But in the name of increased security, what takes a hit is the privacy and convenience of passengers.

One of the things I hate the most is having to take off my shoes. This is driven by concern both for myself and my fellow passengers - I find the process of untying and tying my laces annoying, and others find the smell of my feet revolting. I also don't like having to take off my belt as this greatly increases the chance of my pants falling, given my recent weight loss. Taking off a business coat is also a pain, as it tends to get crushed and/or dirty. One lady I saw was forced to take off a loose sweater - because it wasn't tight against her skin - and her scarf as well. It annoys me that the US insists on doing all this when no other country I've passed through in the last few years - India, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands - punishes passengers with this level of security.

And now we have the new full body scanners. There has been a lot of controversy about the 'naked' pictures that this scanner generates, and the potential for subsequent misuse. I'm not too worried - I'm neither famous enough nor good looking enough for anyone to want to keep my naked pictures. If you're curious, however, this is what my scanned image would probably look like.

Seriously. Too obscene.
(And nearby, a posse of beggars cheerfully rides)

My issue with these scanners, however, is that they do not address security holistically. They appear to be the equivalent of a patch in the software world. I recently passed through one at SFO, and the normal process handn't changed. I still had to take off my shoes and my belt and my jacket and dump them on the belt. And, in addition, I had to do a ballet pose as my body was scanned.

Did I say the normal process hadn't changed? Oops, got that wrong. Earlier, I used to deposit all electronic and metal items (plus shoes) on the security conveyor belt and walk through the detector. I would ordinarily retain my boarding pass, passport, handkerchief and miscellaneous papers (such as receipts) on my person. And they naturally never set off the detector because they're, well, paper. Now, however, the scan requires you to empty every scrap of everything from your pockets. I got a stern dressing down from the agent at the scanner because of this, and had to hold all the stuff in my pockets up above my head as I was scanned. Post scanning, I was accosted before I could put them back into my pockets, and all the papers were rifled by Security (with more stern faces and disapproving looks) and my handkerchief shaken out to ensure it was a genuine handkerchief and not a WMD.

Painful. If they're investing so much in the scanners, why not make them capable of incorporating all security requirements? (Here's an interesting video indicating how the scanner might fail.) I'm no expert on any of this, of course. I'm just a harassed passenger, who always groans inwardly when having to travel to the USA. It is such a pain.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Two left feet

Not a very good one, apparently.

A cheery bhangra is more in order, perhaps.