I've spent a lot of time thinking about the state of airport safety since 9/11. My home airport is Logan International in Boston, where many of the hijacked flights originated. I flew into that airport less than 24 hours before the hijackings and that flight to Los Angeles was one that I often took. Yes, I was rattled. There but for the Grace of God....
Since then, we've supposedly had an increase in security. After the shoe bomber attempt, we all had to remove our shoes for screening. We still do. Travel with a dog or cat and you'll be treated to what amounts to Theatre of The Absurd. I've flown with both species but let's focus on one. It was after 9/11 and I was flying with my cat to visit friends. Clearing airport security is always a juggling act if you're carrying a laptop computer. Carry your laptop companion (who isn't allowed to sit on your lap) and you'll find yourself going through some interesting contortions. Beyond that, however, is the reaction of the TSA people who are supposed to be on the alert for terrorists.
You are required to remove your small companion from their carrier; the carrier is sent through the screening device and you and your cat (or dog) walk through the metal detector. My cat, a lovely Chartreux, is blue which is standard for the breed. Blue is the correct color name but most people refer to blue cats as gray. I tell you this for a reason which will become clear in a moment. As I took Aimee out of her carrier and held her close to me so if she panicked she wouldn't escape from a firm hold, TSA agents came rushing over to us. "Oh! A kitty!" "What's her name?" "Aimee." "It should be Smokey." "Or Stormy." "Or Shadow!" They were so busy gushing over my cat that they wouldn't have noticed if an assortment of Terrorists passed through the screening area. I was really upset but wasn't sure of my ground. What would they do to me if I pointed out that they should be doing their jobs instead of fussing over Aimee whose name was not about to be changed no matter what they thought. And, frankly, I didn't want to be held up, either. I wanted to pass through the metal detector as quickly as possible in order to get Aimee back into the safety of her carrier.
I stopped flying her because I didn't want to be the cause of a TSA Agent not paying attention to the task at hand.
This week we've heard much about airport screening since a Terrorist who had been someone of interest was allowed on a plane in Europe that was headed to the United States. He tried to set off a bomb on board and was stopped by some alert passengers who apparently tackled him. Had he succeeded, not only would every person on the plane have been killed but many people on the ground as well. The reactions, among others, was to have people stay in their seats for the last hour of the flight. Which makes me wonder if we're all supposed to wear adult diapers. And no one can hold anything inflight. My paperback book of choice is not going to get me through any more long trips if their knee-jerk reaction becomes a policy.
So the issue is once again raised: how to prevent it. When the shoe bomber tried to set off a bomb in his shoe, it was decided that all passengers have to remove their shoes for screening. This latest terrorist had the explosive material in his underwear so the reaction is to use invasive screening apparatus that may or may not be able to detect a bomb but will certainly be the visual equivalent of a full-body orifice check. The reaction is always just that: a reaction and nothing that seems to have had forethought. This latest is a particularly expensive option. And still those in high places insist that the TSA screeners are the best option. Well, if they're not admiring my cat, perhaps they are but I'm not convinced.
Here's what I am convinced of, as is just about any dog person: a bomb dog can easily alert to a bomb and far less expensively than any machine and probably more accurately than a TSA employee.
I've heard the objections: they can't work all the time; some people are allergic to dogs; some people don't want a dog sniffing their crotch. Well, for those who are allergic, they can take an antihistamine before leaving for the airport; for those who don't want a dog sniffing their crotch, well, it's less invasive than those machines, and Auburn University is working on a method to train dogs to sniff from a distance - the olfactory system of a dog is a wonderous thing. As for dogs working shorter hours, well, have several teams trained! It's a whole lot cheaper than one of those machines and the dog will not be suggesting names for your four-legged companion.
Today, someone sent me a link to a CNN story about the use of bomb dogs. They mentioned the objections as well as the benefits. My only objection was that the dogs were wearing choke or prong collars. An old and unnecessary way to train dogs that has been scientifically proven to be problematic.
Years ago, before the real terrorist threats, I wrote an article on Bomb Dogs for Dog World Magazine. It was pretty thorough and contained all the information anyone would need, sans the training technique which would have been releasing confidential information. It wasn't necessary to do that and I wouldn't jeopardize my Country's security. I was told a couple of years later that when the FBI had visited the Massachusetts bomb dog unit which was - and still is to my knowledge - based at Logan Airport, they took a copy of my article back to Washington with them. They had been thinking of ending the bomb dog program and I was told that my article helped to save it. I hope that's true.
So, here's the conclusion: please let me have my paperback book, an opportunity to use the rest room before the plane lands, and for heaven's sake, let me keep my shoes on in the airport and once again comfortably carry a four-legged companion with me. Just get the bomb dog program beefed up and we'll all be safer and happier.