‘Security’ policies run amok

It is becoming increasingly obvious that claims of “security” have joined “racism,” “patriotism” and a host of other bogus bleats in Samuel Johnson’s burgeoning refuge of scoundrels.

One of the more egregious examples of the fixation with security is the debacle that ensued when an ExpressJet was diverted to Rochester from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Aug. 8 because of inclement weather in the Twin Cities. The 47 passengers and three crewmembers were forced to remain on the aircraft from about midnight to 6 a.m., amid overflowing lavatories, wailing children, and hungry and increasingly irate customers.

The reason given for stranding people in abysmal conditions aboard the small, 50-seat jetliner was “security.” It turns out, according to Saturday’s edition of the Star Tribune, that a Mesaba Airlines agent at the Rochester airport refused to allow the passengers and crew to debark for “security reasons” because the “airport was closed.”

Kudos to the Star Tribune and the ever-industrious reporter Paul Walsh for not letting go of this story. Walsh reported that a preliminary U.S. Department of Transportation inquiry into the mess found that a representative of Mesaba, “the only carrier in a position to help the stranded plane,” dismissed the ExpressJet crew’s requests to allow their passengers to enter the terminal “because there was no one from the Transportation Security Administration available to screen the passengers.”

Screen the passengers? It’s not as though these folks hadn’t been thoroughly vetted by TSA agents when they boarded the plane in Houston for the flight to the Twin Cities. Where did the Mesaba agent think the aircraft was coming from? Damascus?

Moreover, Walsh reported, the closed-airport excuse was shot down when it was subsequently learned that a Delta Airlines passenger jet arrived at Rochester at 3 a.m. and its passengers and crew were debarked without any problems.

The feds are looking into the “appropriate action to take against Mesaba,” Walsh reported, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood noted Friday in his blog that “there was really a complete breakdown of common sense here. It’s no wonder the flying public is so frustrated.” You can say that again.

New Sun Country policy
The problem, essentially, is the almost total lack of common sense.

Sun Country honcho Stan Gadek alluded to that Sunday when he announced that his airline has instituted a policy of taking passengers off its aircraft that have been stranded on runways for four hours. On Friday, a Sun Country flight to the Twin Cities was forced to sit on a runway at New York’s JFK airport for six hours, which, as travelers who have used that terminus know well, is not that uncommon.

Heaping insult on injury, passengers reported that they were required to buy food and water from the airline during the ordeal, and even so, the supplies quickly ran out. Gadek stepped up to the plate, and said that the passengers would be reimbursed for their ticket fares, and that Sun Country would now provide those amenities free of charge if a flight is delayed on a runway more than an hour. Bra-vo!

Minnesota’s senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, was quick to laud Gadek’s announcement, though she’d rather see the delay deadline set at three hours rather than four. She is sponsoring legislation that, among other things, would set a national standard for dealing with unacceptable flight delays. She said Sunday that she hopes Gadek’s announcement proves to be an impetus for a serious discussion of how to deal with a nagging problem.

This is one area in which the feds have a legitimate reason to meddle, though it’s a pity the airline industry didn’t have the foresight to understand the scope of the problem — horror stories of passengers stranded in cramped aircraft have become all too common — and deal with it themselves. If they’re smart, other airline execs will take a cue from Gadek and impose similar rules.

Airport security precautions, incessant and rarely explained delays and cancellations, and the industry’s tendency to treat paying customers like little more than cattle have made flying an onerous chore. It’s a disgrace. Yet many Americans have come to expect these indignities as routine, having been born too late to remember when flying was a pleasurable, even an exciting, experience one looked forward to.

Everyday experience
As for the security issue, it, too, is running amok at the expense of common sense. The problem has seeped into virtually everything we do these days. It directly affects each and every one of us every day in seemingly countless little ways.

For example, while LaHood was opining in his blog on Friday, my wife was calling our bank to make an inquiry about a deposit. After negotiating the telephone-answering computer (no mean feat these days) and getting a real person (!), she was asked for our account number, her telephone number, our address, the last four digits of her Social Security number, and her email address. Somehow the usual questions of one’s mother’s maiden name and the town in which the caller was born were omitted. All this from the receptionist, mind you.

Obviously, the account number was crucial to the conversation. The telephone number? It clearly was displayed on the receptionist’s computer console. Ditto our address, and the last four digits of her Soc-Sec number. The email address? My wife called a halt to the procession of data at that point, and she said later that the bank employee laughed, too, no doubt at the inanity of it all.

When I checked in to the Virginia Piper Cancer Center of Abbott Northwestern Hospital last week to see the surgeon who had removed my cancerous kidney, I had to cough up all sorts of personal information before even darkening the door. The reason was that I had not been treated at that facility before and the information was for “security” purposes, the affable clerk chirped. Included in the litany was a request for a photo ID (government issued only), which was dutifully copied and returned.

It begs the question, of course. Who in their right mind would want to breach “security” by entering a cancer-treatment facility on a lark?

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/25/2009 - 10:00 am.

    Welcome back I was just thinking about you the other day.

  2. Submitted by jim hughes on 08/25/2009 - 01:23 pm.

    Note how the airlines are maneuvering the public, and Congress, into accepting the idea that a 4 hour wait on the tarmac is acceptable.

    How long before it becomes routine?

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/25/2009 - 02:08 pm.

    A train ride, on the other hand, offers you the opportunity to get up and walk around. At mealtime, you are seated at a table with other passengers so you all have a chance for pleasant conversation over a meal served by polite, white-coated waiters. Meals aren’t free, but they aren’t just a little bag of nuts either.

    When you return to your seat, you can watch the scenery passing by, read a book, or pull down the leg-rest and take a nap.

    Compared to traveling by air, Amtrak treats you like the airlines used to — once upon a time.

  4. Submitted by Ed Stych on 08/25/2009 - 05:17 pm.

    Yeah, and it takes you eight hours to get to Chicago on a train and one hour on a plane.

  5. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 08/25/2009 - 07:53 pm.

    Right, Ed. Did you even read the post? Flying is a pain these days. It takes an hour of flight time to get to Chicago from MSP.

  6. Submitted by mark griffin on 09/08/2009 - 04:16 pm.

    I am suspicious of the sometimes vigilant TSA and other times sleeping TSA. Even the metal detector is somewhat questionable. I have gotten through it, when they didn’t require shoes to be taken off, and still sometimes they don’t, depending on the airport, I once walked through one with metal toed work boots on, because, I shuffled through, and there is about a 2″ deadzone from the floor. Well that’s my rant! Thanks Mike for another interesting story.

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