It was with a mixed sense of surprise and apprehension that I watched the news about the new terrorist attempt unveiled yesterday. The alleged terrorists were planning to use liquid explosives triggered by a digital player, referred by police as a MP3 player and mentioned in the CNN website as a possible iPod or mobile phone. As a measure of caution, iPod’s and all digital players were immediately banned from entering aboard airplanes.
I have no idea what sort of explosive music was loaded on the thing, but the truth is Majors have released a few “bombs” lately. Jokes apart, there was an immediate impact on the security measures in place in London and other European airports, followed swiftly by American authorities. Shampoo bottles, perfumes, lotions, hair gel and similar items along with iPod’s and other digital players were promptly banned from carry on luggage. Officials said “passengers will have to stick to the in flight entertainment system”, which – for many frequent travellers such as myself – it’s almost a prison sentence!
I was in the air at the time this all thing unfolded, so I was not affected. I was on my way to a business meeting in Stockholm, Sweden. But now I fear for the future. At least for the near future when I have to travel to the United States.
Let me tell you I was horrified with 9/11 as everyone else was. I understand we have to fight the terrorists and come up with effective ways to blunder their plans and prevent new terror actions, namely those targeting commercial flights. However, I’m not sure most of the measures introduced after 9/11 were effective at all. After travelling extensively pretty much everywhere across Europe and the USA, I’m convinced most of the new measures implemented after 9/11 were more an emotional reaction, devised to make passengers feel safe and not hurt the air industry, rather than really to prevent new attacks. Measures like banning certain items from getting on board – now digital players. May I give you some examples of “show off” instead of effective measures?
Immediately after 9/11 there was paranoia about sharp objects. I remember painfully trying to eat a stake at a restaurant in Heathrow with a plastic knife that kept breaking. All restaurants situated beyond the X-Ray control were forced to remove metal cutlery. If you travelled coach you had to eat with the awful plastic thing as well. However, in Business Class I was served with real knifes and forks. Many times since then. Lucky me, terrorists can only afford to travel coach… Or can’t they?…
Last year in New York my partner was forced to hand in his cigar lighter at a random security check at the X-Ray control in an internal flight to Washington. He was aggravated by this so he said the lighter (worth no more than 45 cents) was a collectible from his extensive collection of inexpensive lighters from around the world. The security guy put it in an envelope, gave him a receipt and told us to collect the lighter when we came back. Which by the way we did! But the real stupid thing was that as soon as we entered the restricted area, we went into a newspaper stand and bought… a lighter!
One thing still aggravates me beyond belief in the US. In every airport, regardless the temperature of the floor in winter or the facilities you have right across the X-Ray control, you ALWAYS have to take out your shoes. Well, I am a big (I say BIG) person, taking out and putting in shoes as I carry my laptop bag, newspapers, boarding pass and visible passport is a real pain in the butt. I always try to resist, but to no avail. The justification is simple: they have been doing that without interruption since that terrorist was arrested in France with explosives hidden inside the sole of his shoe in 2001. That was almost 5 years ago! No other terrorist tried to hide explosives in shoes (unfortunately they are not stupid and try to avoid committing the same mistakes), but we keep bending and sweating, and feeling cold feet in every American airport (not required in Europe) for the past half decade. I would say that, in some way, the terrorists have won a point there. They are still harassing my life with the “shoes plot”. But just imagine if they had any sense of humour! Pray that no terrorist is ever caught with explosives hidden up his rectum. You know what will happen from then on in American airports as standard search, don’t you? Let’s hope the day never comes! That would be a real terrorist attack!
Now the time came to ban the iPod and all digital players form coming aboard. The terrorists were planning to use one to trigger their shampoo bottle. Since yesterday we are safer. We live in a safer world. We can’t take a digital player on an airplane travelling to the United States. Officials say these exceptional measures will be enforced for about 1 week and then re-evaluated. Knowing the American way of acting in these matters I have reasons to believe cross-Atlantic travel suddenly became longer and more boring. It makes no sense to ban digital players. That is why I fear they will do it. At least it’ll seem they are doing something to prevent new attacks.