The controversy over President Trump’s decision to reveal the intel on laptop bombs that ISIS was planning on using to down an aircraft reveals that the threat of this is real, not some plot to boost up U.S. airlines at the expense of foreign ones. This was a Machiavellian thought listed by more than a few bloggers. Now that the European and U.S. authorities have gotten together and decided not to implement a large electronics ban for flights between Europe and the U.S., do you feel safe enough to fly?
Knowing where to draw a line on safety is one of the toughest things for government officials to do. Believe it or not, there are still libertarians out there who object to the seatbelts-in-cars law as an unnecessary intrusion of the Government into their lives. If they want to endanger their own lives why should the Government prevent them? Laws are not passed without debate and society needs to accept change before a law can truly be enforced. 100 years ago local governments passed laws against spitting on sidewalks. Why? Because tuberculosis was a terrible, incurable disease that was spread by airborne spittle. Society thought that those laws made sense and law enforcement acted on that law because they too felt the greater good of preventing infection. Most of those laws are still on the books, but can you imagine most people’s reactions today if they told their friends they received a ticket for spitting in public? We don’t see TB as a threat, so don’t believe a law like that should be enforced.
So where does this lead us back to airline safety? Where do we draw the line? What would be your reaction if the President decided tomorrow to cancel the TSA and let anyone walk on a plane the way we did before 9/11? Would you still fly? Probably not, since society widely perceives there is still a significant threat that needs to be guarded against. Remember that after the Shoe Bomber, we had to start taking off our shoes and put them through the x-ray machine? Now, only boots where something large-ish could be concealed get that treatment. There are a significant number of people out there that think there should be no liquids ban as they haven’t seen evidence of that being used.
No one objected to taking their shoes off, because they knew the Shoe Bomber actually tried it. Some people object to the liquids ban because it is theoretical (bi-nary explosives are formed when two otherwise harmless chemicals are combined to form an explosive mixture), but can you imagine the outrage if the Government did nothing to safeguard against this threat and then it was successfully used by terrorists?
Photo courtesy of dailymail.co.uk
We have already seen one laptop-concealed explosive try to take down a plane flying out of Mogadishu, Somalia (see photo). That failed mostly because of the ineptitude of the suicide bomber, but certainly could have succeeded with spectacular loss of life. I think if that exact same incident had occurred in Akron, Ohio, people would be taking it a lot more seriously about banning laptops than they are now. Public support for a ban needs to be solidified before it is enacted. People will not simply trust their government to do the right thing.
So, do you still feel OK to fly to Europe knowing that there is a possibility of a laptop bomb being on board? Personally, I have no problem accepting that risk. However, I remain vigilant as I can (and I am trained to do), and will act if I see peculiar actions. Frankly, the odds of me being killed by another driver on the highway are greater than the chance that I will die in a terrorist incident. I better make sure I wear my seat belt.