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International travel redux

International air travel — as a user experience — sucks. I should know; I'm just back home in Scotland after a nearly two week trip to the USA, and I'm off to Japan in April. (My carbon footprint, let me show you: the domestic/automobile side of it is positively hair-shirt green in its miniscule dimensions, but the air travel part is bloated.)

Right now, I'm jet-lagged. Which is annoying, because I'm supposed to be writing a novel: but while I'm kinda-sorta back on local time, past experience suggests that if I try to work, my written output will resemble that of a fourteen year old with ADHD — anything I do in the next day or so would have to be junked or re-written so thoroughly that it would add more time to project completion than it would detract.

Jet lag is an insidious and unpleasant condition, aggravated by economy class travel and overnight flights: in my case, taking off around 10:40pm in New York, landing at 11:20am in Amsterdam, after six and a half hours or so in flight. The night is shorter by six hours than it should be, due to time zone differences. The cabin crew are scheduled to feed and water the cattle 30 minutes after take-off (allowing an hour for dinner), then 90 minutes before landing (with a light meal). In-between, the cabin lights are dimmed ... allowing for a grand total of four hours of darkness in which to sleep, if you can, in a not-too-wide seat. I lucked out on this trip (we were bumped from regular economy to KLM's economy-with-15cm-of-extra-legroom, normally a €60 extra) and was able to nap a couple of times; but it's no way to spend a night, and I've never in my entire life been able to stay awake for more than 28 hours at a stretch: I need my sleep.

West-to-east travel across time zones makes for the worst jet lag; you lose hours out of the middle of the night, and unless you can afford business class (I can't, usually) you don't get a seat you can sleep in. The end result is something like an 18 hour day followed by a 24 hour day, with some uncomfortable napping in hours 16-20. To minimize the damage and get onto local time at the destination as fast as possible, my preferred strategy is to catch a 2-3 hour afternoon nap on the day of arrival, then stay up until regular bedtime. Trouble is, after that nap I wake up feeling as if I've got most of the symptoms of flu (except for the fever and severe joint pains), and it lasts for days.

To add to the fun, my local airport doesn't serve many destinations outside the EU. I therefore need to connect via a major hub. In this case, back in November 2009 when I booked the flights (before Mr Explodeypants screwed the experience for everyone) I booked via Schiphol, Amsterdam's airport. Schiphol is actually east of my destination on the west-to-east flight; but I had a reason. Firstly, Schiphol is not Heathrow (or Gatwick) — travel via the British intercontinental hubs is a hideous experience, and I'll go to some lengths to avoid them. In terms of flight time, Amsterdam's about half an hour further from the US than London, and half an hour further from Edinburgh. But in the departure area there is a hotel which you can book for a four-hour slot, for about the price of access to a business class lounge. This gets you a compact but nicely designed room with an en suite shower/toilet bathroom and a really nice mattress. I planned for a four-hour connection, precisely so that I could catch a nap after the overnight flight: it worked well enough that I'd do it again.

A secondary aspect of the experience is dehydration, of course. Like many forty-something males I take medication for high blood pressure; consequently, I drink like a fish. Air-conditioned cabins pressurized to the equivalent of a 4000 metre mountaintop are very dessicating: at the end of a long flight my skin feels like leather and I have a mild headache, and that's even after managing to grab a litre bottle of water to supplement the ration that comes with dinner. Alcohol is pretty much right out, unless you can grab an extra water supply: it's a mild diuretic, your tolerance at altitude is reduced, and if you indulge to even a normally tolerable extent you'll end up with the hangover from hell.

Perhaps the worst part of the experience of flying these days is the security theatricals. No surprise in the attentiveness of the screeners at Schiphol being dialed right up to eleven; but I was somewhat shocked by the poor quality of the security at JFK.

Here's the rub: security is a state of mind, not a procedure. Procedures can't cope with attackers, because they're inflexible. If you search passengers for guns, someone will carry a knife. If you search for knives, someone will sew themselves a set of underwear full of PETN. And so on. To deal with a threat — say, someone who wants to attack your air travel infrastructure — you must look for the attacker, not their tools, because they can change their tools at will to exploit weaknesses in your procedure for identifying tools.

JFK is wide open to terrorists intent on causing mass casualties.


It took me about 60 minutes to shuffle through the scrum for security clearing, around 8pm on a Thursday. This isn't an accident of timing: at that time, we had about four or five 747-loads of passengers trying to get to their gates. Among them was the last El Al flight of the week to Tel Aviv that can arrive before sunset on Friday (i.e. the sabbath); guess what ethnic profiling of passengers for that flight would suggest? Also among them: the last 747s for Europe from New York on a regular midweek day. All these flights were crammed to the gills; so we had a couple of thousand passengers milling around in a zig-zag maze of rope barriers, waiting to squeeze themselves through the metal detectors and their bags through the X-ray machines. Keeping an eye on this mass, from outside: about two cops and two soldiers. At the gate, security was cursory at best: the only passenger I saw being hand-searched was the wheelchair user (who obviously couldn't go through the gate), and I saw no sign of bags being re-checked or hand-searched either: the TSA staff were clearly under immense pressure due to the workload, and were therefore going through the motions — performing their checklist at maximum speed (look for guns, look for knives, look for things that look like TSA-standard training bombs), rather than being thorough.

Let me wear my Osama bin Laden hat for a minute:

Suppose I wanted to attack the US air travel infrastructure. I can't get bombs or box cutters onto planes reliably. But I can kill lots of passengers! All I need to do is to buy a maximum-size carry on bag (US dimensions: 7" x 13" x 20") and build the biggest, heaviest bomb into it that I can wheel behind me. It's not weight-constrained for hand luggage: there's probably room for about 10 kilos of PETN (or similar) and 5 kilos of metal shrapnel in such a bag.

All I would have to do then is buy a ticket (return, please: one-way with no checked baggage is now flagged as something to watch) and go queue. Then, when I get to the middle of the crowd, detonate the device. (For added horrors: have an accomplice with a similar device hang back, to detonate their bomb amidst the fleeing survivors.)

My point here is that security checkpoints are a target, too, because they slow down travellers and cause crowds to form, and another term for "crowd" is "convenient target". And because the attacker has not been separated from their weapon at the point when they reach such a target, it's the logical weak point for causing maximum damage.

Schiphol — Amsterdam airport — gets the security screening right, or at least less wrong than JFK and most other airports. Rather than having a hideous bottleneck between check-in and the departure area, security screening is carried out at each depature gate, with a separate metal detector and X-ray belt; no huge crowds form in unsecured areas. On US-bound flights, someone who clearly isn't a minimum-wage drone checks ID documents and asks a couple of questions that seem to me to the aimed at flushing out anyone who is disturbed or tense — a crude form of profiling. This was in place before December 26th, 2009; Schiphol has much tighter security than many European or American airports. (Which is another, albeit minor, reason why I prefer to use it as my hub for long-haul travel. There's just one black mark against it, namely the lack of soft drink/water vending machines — or even toilets &mash; in the gate waiting areas after security: you can't buy extra fluids to take aboard your flight.)

Anyway. Never mind the jet lag and other minor inconveniences: I resent the way the inconvenient, intrusive, and annoying security procedures currently being forced upon us actually make air travel less safe. And I resent the way that the political syllogism — something must be done; this is something; therefore this must be done — is used to justify nonsense like expensive and buggy teraherz radar booths as a panacea in place of plain old-fashioned intelligence-led policing.

(And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for my afternoon post-jetlag nap.)



I know what you mean about the ridiculous security bottlenecks. A prime target, like a train or public gathering. For all of the hype, however, the US has been surprisingly free of terrorism given its size.

The large international airports are the worst in my experience. I haven't used JFK, but it sounds similar to Orlando International. OTOH, you don't see this sort of problem at smaller airports. When I fly out of Hartford, it takes about 20 minutes from baggage check in to the gate, with minimal lines. A small airport like Westchester County Airport outside of New York City has almost no wait at all.

The difference in size is huge though -- JFK has 50x as many passengers per year as Westchester. JFK and Schiphol handle roughly the same number of passengers though, so it sounds like JFK could learn from them.


BTW, if you are ever flying to the Orlando region of Florida, try flying into Orlando-Sanford International Airport instead of Orlando International Airport. For some reason there are several airlines going between Sanford and Scotland, and the airport itself is very small and will be a lot less stressful.


" On US-bound flights, someone who clearly isn't a minimum-wage drone checks ID documents and asks a couple of questions that seem to me to the aimed at flushing out anyone who is disturbed or tense — a crude form of profiling."

This is a key point. All of the objections to the TSA being unionized are based on the idea that unions drive up wages.

Don't you want more qualified people doing more important jobs?

The screening for Israel at the check-in counter (remembering from about eleven years ago, i.e., pre-11 Sep 2001) has always been based on evaluating the passengers--and using people who have the skills to do so. (Years before, I had worked baggage check for those flights a few times; this stopped after a passenger challenged me to a fight. [I accepted; he didn't show.])

The screening after 11.09.01 has gotten more ponderous, but no better. And it won't so long as the people screening can make more if they get a job at Applebee's or Costco.


Charles, Charles, Charles.

You forget the purpose of the security screening. The point of our screening here in the United States isn't to actually improve security in any way at all - it is to remind the Common Man that in the eyes of the Government, he is a Criminal, and the Watchful Eye of his Rightful Lord is upon him. He should be grateful that he is not subjected to an invasion of his most private orifices every time he deigns to travel via that highest of roads, for surely he is unworthy of traveling on the lanes reserved for the highest of high society.


"security checkpoints are a target too"

There's kind of a broader question here about terrorist targeting generally. If you're looking to cause horrific mass death and you're not too fussed about your own survival, there are clearly easier ways to go about it than trying to smuggle explosives through airport security. Rail networks are a pretty obvious one, and I remember thinking that Madrid and 7/7 showed that there was nothing too special about air travel.

But that turns out to be wrong. People keep trying to blow up planes, in spite of the fact that there are a lot of much softer targets out there. Why?


The whole "hit the security line. then when they push the line back, hit THAT security line." is something I've been wondering about for a while. If their goal is to cause mass death, that's, as you said, every bit as good as hitting the plane itself, and potentially a lot scarier.

I've always wondered why terrorists in the states don't just go bomb a waffle house in north carolina, and then a walmart in Seattle. If you wanted to bring things to a screeching halt in this country, hit a few common, soft targets. People wouldn't go outside for weeks.


Pete: planes are glamorous, and small-scale terrorism -- and Al Qaida, outside of the middle east, is small -- is all about the pursuit of publicity through the spectacle of horror.

It's a lot easier to blow up a plane than a skyscraper (Al Qaida got the NYC World Trade Center on either the second or third detected attempt). It's easier to kill everyone on a plane than a train, too; ISTR in the nineties someone tried to blow up a French TGV while it was travelling at around 160mph -- they killed two passengers. Trains are generally heavy, solidly constructed, and have a much safer failure mode than an airliner (they roll to a stop, or derail: unless there's a bridge in the way, derailment at speed is less likely to be fatal than a plane crash).

Also, I suspect there's some symbolism to be milked in the mid-east from blowing up an airliner full of Americans or Europeans, given that aircraft are intrinsically a technology that is strongly identified with -- developed by and overwhelmingly used by -- the western imperialist oppressors.


Hi Charlie,

My daughter has ADD and lately has again had difficulty concentrating at school and at home. When her teacher mentioned that she was talking far to long to complete even simple tasks at school, her mother and I started to wonder whether we needed to increase her medication. However in talking to her pediatrician he uncovered that she also has recently had problems sleeping through the night. Sure she'd go to bed (eventually - typical 8 year old!), but halfway through the night I'd find this little bundle curled up in my bed. The doctor said that instead of increasing her medication, we should try giving her Melatonin (which sort of surprised me as I thought that was the name for the chemical that causes skin to darken, but, no, apparently that's something completely different). So we've started giving her one 3 mg capsule a couple of hours before bed and so far (fingers crossed), it seems to be working like a charm. Now the doctor also mentioned that this vitamin (mineral?) is also used to help people who have jet lag and indeed right on the label is says "Helps in the relief of Jetlag and some sleeping disorders". I thought I'd mention this to you as it might help alleviate some of your own recent problems without resorting to sleeping pills.

All the best,



The bad guys already know this. Hence there is no harm in your having said so. The more people who know the difference between theatrics and security, between Reel and Real, the more pressure can be exerted on our so-called representatives in the Corridors of Power.

LAX, JFK, O'Hare are nightmares. Africa and the ex-USSR have some worse nightmares. Schiphol is a wet dream of an airport.

The pretend security is already a victory for the bad guys. The Free World is less free. Real states have painted themselves into the wrong corner of the chessboard, while failed states and non-state actors move their deadly pawns with impunity.


What takes you to Japan, and where in the Land of the Rising Sun will you be going?

Eamon, he who is banished to the cold North of Japan...


Airport security tends towards farcical and those in the States seems worse than other airports. I flew out of the US on or around the first anniversary of 9/11 (can't remember the exact date and security was supposedly on high alert - which meant no toothpicks, combs or carry on - I had to check my normal carry on bag. Where I watched in disbelief as the bags were lifted off the conveyor, carried around an X-ray machine and replaced on the conveyor to continue on it's way. Then, on boarding the plane we all collected the duty free purchases. In my case this included a nicely flammable mix of spirits and perfume but no source of ignition - no one in the family smokes so the decorative lighters and single use butane refills held no interest to me.

The last time I went through security was last year prior to the underwear bomb but had to remove shoes and pass through the gate in stocking feet with the setting so high I can only conclude it was reacting to the iron in my blood as everything metal travelled through the scanner.

Attack the airport not the plane- they've already tried in a half assed kind of way iirc a Range Rover with petrol and butane cylinders tried to crash the terminal at Glasgow (?) airport


You're not the first to think of that, security professionals have been warning of it since the beginning of post-9/11 flights. I remember, when a security procedural screwup right after E3 2002 led to all the passengers being forced out of the terminals and having to go through the checkpoints again, thinking "what would a terrorist think of this?" 8-10K people crowded onto the sidewalk outside of my terminal alone, one good van-bomb could have taken out the lot of us.

But we don't have a security system, we have security ritual. You queue up respectfully, remove your profane footwear, and pass through the magical portal to "safety". Perhaps the acolytes pass the magic wand over your body in a ritual act of cleansing, maybe you need a laying on of hands.

All of this makes people feel safer, which is the real purpose.



Looks good, and on my shink line to Tokyo - though I fear I shall be in the "f**k my contract's not been renewed" time dreaded by many gaijin and scrambling for a new job around that time (being a disposable drone sucks - especially in a country where most workers of my level are not).

Have a good one, and who knows - if fortune favour me you may be annoyed by an incoherent Ulsterman...


I still remember my Canadian trip, back in late 2002. I made a huge mistake on the trip home: I flew Toronto to Vancouver to Honolulu to Sydney [Australia] to Melbourne. Not counting the one- to two-hour stopovers in Vancouver, Honolulu, and Sydney, I was inside the damn metal tubes for twenty-four hours.

So I got home around midday, felt bright and bouncy, spent time with family. At around 6pm, it hit. "Sorry, guys, I think I should go to bed now." Crashed and slept until about 8am the following morning.

Next time, if there is a next time, I'll be breaking things up - a couple of days in Vancouver, a couple of days in Honolulu, that sort of thing. (Or the equivalent - Africa is still on the list of things to do, to give one example.)

Btw: you might want to run the source of this page through a sed -e 's+&mash+&mdash+' or equivalent.


One of the reasons that Al Qaida or equivalent hasn't hit the States again big-time is that they really haven't needed to. The purpose of terrorism isn't mass deaths, that's just a technique. The purpose is just what it says, terror. And the intention is that terrorizing a government and its population makes them do stupid things, hopefully so stupid that they piss off everyone else, isolating them from the rest of the world, and maybe even so stupid that they alienate the population the terrorist comes from, making recruits for the terrorists.

In that light, the 9/11 attack has had unqualified success, and continues to produce useful effects.


@JKS: there are two different substances: melanin, a dark pigment in hair, skin and eyes, and melatonin, a hormone that regulates the daily cycle, and also annual cycles based on day length. The similarity of name is not a coincidence: in animals that change their coat colour at different times of year (e.g. typically white in winter, dark in summer) melatonin is responsible for regulating melanin.


Targeting the checkpoints.... didn't they already try to do that in Glasgow?

Security check at the departure gates - I suppose it's the least worst alternative - but certain airlines coughAustriancough need to stop selling their 'thirty-minute' connections if they know that's how their hub is organised. Or was I supposed to pack a bobsleigh for that change at Vienna?


hampshireflyer: the Glasgow bombers were so incompetent they never got anywhere near the security checkpoints -- they just wedged a burning jeep in the departures terminal door and managed to set themselves on fire.

I try never to leave less than two hours for a connection between flights arriving and departing from the same terminal -- add another hour if transit between terminals is required. Because? Flights get delayed, and airports are huge.


Ken Houghton @3:They still do, at least as of 10 days ago. Also, the Prague airport has similar setup to Schipol, at least for connections, which is indeed the way that makes sense. They, too, don't have machines past the security check- I suspect that's part of the procedure. They have to think about what happens if someone suborns the guy who fills them so you can get some things you shouldn't on the plane..


RE: the Melatonin Charlie, 3 mg is a bit much for normal usage. I'm a light sleeper and take 1/10 th of that to help me sleep through the night. Any more than that leaves you dopey next morning. If you are going to use it to regularize your sleep cycle, I'd start with a lot lower dose than 3 mg.

Melatonin is a natural sleep inducing hormone that peaks during your teenaged years and declines with age, so taking small quantities of it is only returning it to the levels of your youth.


Having recently got back from the states myself all I can say is that the security theatre at O'Hare (domestic) and SFO (international) was nowhere near the level I encountered at Heathrow on my outward leg. The gate at LHR was a repeat of passport control - belt, boots off; laptop out) with the added bonus of a pat-down. All annoying but the only time I was in a large crowd at security was LHR passport control.

As for sleeping on the flight I didn't bother on the way out and just crashed at the far end. I managed a few hours in my cattle class seat on the 10h haul back though which meant I got through to about 2300 local before turning in.


Ken MacLeod did the "bomb the scurity queue" thing quite well in a recent novel. He had the (Cristian) terrorist carry the bag all the way up to the security check, then put it down behind the 'sharps' bin just before detonation. Maximum disarray of aftereffect.


Melatonin is not licensed for over-the-counter sales in the UK; it's prescription-only. (Which means, not readily available.) Also, on the occasions when I bought some in the USA, I was so jet-lagged I forgot to take it ...

PeteY: you are confusing Ken MacLeod with Iain Banks. (Easily done, I know ... if in doubt, try to remember that Ken drinks 80/-, Iain drinks single malt or IPA.)


David Hilbert: "Mathematics knows no races or geographic boundaries; for mathematics, the cultural world is one country."


Another post that resonates! I'm currently in Miami, dreading the lag when I get back to the UK. It always slaps me hard. (someone told me it takes a day for every hour's difference and it does take around a week to recover getting back from the US)

But as for security at Schiphol one of my worst experiences was a holiday-time scrum there post-check in that seriously had me worried I was either going to miss my flight or get crushed to death.And now I get to worry about getting blown up! cheers for that.


Some wheelchair users can go through the metal detectors. I can't walk or stand as long as it requires in airports, so I always get wheeled to the security area (and at Dulles, to the front of a line) (as well as out to the cabs) and go through the metal detector (as long as they don't have the plastic spiked mats, they make me fall over, too).


Just remember what stops Al Qaeda hijackers: passengers willing to die to take them down.

So what has the US government done? Disarmed all the passengers and made them as resentful and uncomfortable as possible.

Next plane to target Washington may not crash in a field in Pennsylvania, although personally I hope it does.

Yes, it's security theater, not real security (I think Schneier came up with that phrase?). So far as I can tell, the real point is to present an outwardly guarded but actually vulnerable target that, if hit, will give the government an excuse to do whatever they want in the midst of the crisis.

Sigh. On a lighter note, Bruce Schneier has a contest on for the logo for TSA. Fun stuff.


Trains derailing - or hitting large solid objects like other trains - tend to be messy, even when they only kill a handful of people. (A locomotive weighs one or two hundred tons.)


Another way to regulate serotonin/melatonin levels is to get bright light at certain times of day. I use a light box on winter mornings to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I bless the day I bought it.

There are different brands, but mine is by the Litebook company, whose website also has a calculator that tells you when to seek and avoid light to minimise the effects of jetlag. I didn't get a chance to follow the schedule last time I travelled, but it might be worth a try if you've got no other demands on your time. You might not even need a light box if your "seek light" time falls during the day and you happen to have some sunshine.


The thing to bear in mind is a terrorist taking down a plane isn't really a problem for a government, more an opportunity.

They have the game plan of how to play the scenario ready worked out; they get to enact a bunch of legislation they want to see happen; and those terrorists aren't doing something that might actually change things. From the PoV of a government, terrorists attacking airliners is a 'useful' action.

You're surprised that all they do is pile on more repressive technology in response; that they can then roll out elsewhere?

The last thing a government wants is a smart terrorist that asks "maybe I should be thinking of a better target?"


Charlie @13: That looks like a tempting cue to go back to Japan. I'd like to visit again, and I definitely won't be able to afford to next year, but I don't think I can spare the time away this year.

But I'd like to go back....


Yes, you're right, it was Iain Banks. I suppose I should have recognised the quality of mayhem. Still, Christian terrorists, eh? It could have been either.


Dave Rickey @ 12 But the evil forces of reason are out to take away the magic wands: Leaving us defenseless against magical terrorists!


Welcome back, Charlie.

Great minds think alike ... when I thought of the exact same attack scheme (with refinements) a few years ago, I was so worried I emailed Bruce Schneier - who assured me that this was already being discreetly watched for. Not all airport security is theatre. Some at least is off-stage.

And yes, it was Iain and not me who put the thing in a book. Bombing space elevators, now ... that's more my scene. I want all the ideas for that out in the open well before the things get built.


Flying out of Heathrow to the US isn't much better. Massive queues, not much intelligence, lot's of shuffling and being seen to do something rather than actually doing something which is effective. Classic example - security lady takes one look at my bag (which is crammed with laptop, power bricks, wireless mouse, phone chargers, usb cables, yada, yada, yada) after me queueing for almost an hour for my "personal bag inspection" and comments "you've got a lot of computer stuff" and that's it. An hour's queueing for that? More musings on that here:

Interesting aside # 1: the chap at Heathrow T5 who patted me down reassured me that it's all going to get much better because "this end of the terminal, where all the US flights go from is soon going to be taken over by the US government". So I feel much better about this.

Interesting aside # 2: the new(ish) Iain Banks novel, Transitions, (or the newish Iain M Banks novel if you buy it in the US) contains just such a terrorist strategy with the (successful and Christian Fundamentalist) terrorist disguised as a soldier detonating his (explosive crammed) kit bag right next to a big bin of all the items that security has confiscated in the middle of the terminal building. Great minds and all that.


I wonder if the hotel management would appreciate the extra business after a Con, if there was a panel of well-known SF writers describing how their character would carry out a terrorist attack.

Leaving aside the issue of their characters not being the sort of chap who would do that, although I'm not sure about Culture Special Circumstances.

Would Doug Winger suggest exploding boob implants?


You can tell it's security theatre, and the drones just run it by the numbers, from stories like the (urban legend?) of the US carrier hired to fly troops out to Irag/Afghanistan?. The troops all lining up had to put their nail clippers and such like in the hold or bin them before boarding, and yet they were all carrying their weapons!

I also wonder why the terrorists seem so fixated on 'planes, but I'm thankful they are! It's also amusing to look at the statistics such as the No of people killed on the roads in the US vs the No killed by terrorism, then see how the media coverage of terrorism aids them by spreading the terror so much more effectively than anything they could do themselves!


I have a theory on US airport security, and it stems from the trip I took over the New Year, flying from Newark to Heathrow and back again. We flew out on December 26, one day after Dumbob Bombpants.

There was nothing in the security lines at Newark that was unusual, we just dropped our bags and went through to the (admittedly very poor facility-wise) airside area. Our plane was delayed, though, due to 'heightened security' delaying the plane inbound.

Skip to a week and a bit later, and we're at Heathrow. T3 bag drop is fine as usual, and the security lines are about the same... except both my wife and I get our bags pulled.

Mine, I just forgot to empty my daughter's water bottle out before we went through (actually I had two in my bag, saw that the one nearest the top was empty and assumed it was the one she was using). My bad, security checks work.

My wife's bag also had a water bottle in it - that had been in there since she'd taken a trip to Philadelphia with my daughter before we went through security at Newark.

We also got searched and our documents checked again at the gate (which meant the plane took off late).

So, to recap: Heathrow security picked up what Newark security did not, and Heathrow also had a second layer of security that Newark did not.

My theory? The US authorities really don't give a rat's arse about terrorists leaving US airspace (never mind that the 9/11 planes were all domestic flights), because after all, it's not their problem once they're gone. But goddammit you're not going to let them in.


"All of this makes people feel safer, which is the real purpose."

Um, no. You meant:

All of this makes people feel less safe, which is the real purpose.


After a totally useless bag check at the British library, which, had I been a terrorist, would have missed the slab of explosive and detonators, not to mention the extra ammo, the bomb strapped to my body and the 9mm pistols under my armpits, (I reckonI could have killed 15 people at least) I summarised it thus: Security is like brain surgery - there's no point doing it unless you are doing it properly.


Security theatre! Oh my ......

I HATE flying - first flew only 5 years ago (I'm 64) and even now, only do Stansted - Germany once-a-year, because the trains don't go there fast (yet). BEFORE the tube bombs, one evening, I encountered a (probably Glaswegian, probably drunk) UndergounD passenger with an OIL-DRUM (about 45 litres or so) - I had to "pull the cord" - but: no-one even wanted to know, except, later, by mail CityPlod ..... As it is, in London, bombing tube trains is a waste of time.

Why don't Al-Q do any of the following, which are some of my LESS inventive horrible ideas, for instance, if they REALLY wanted to cause terror, rather then be fancy pimping poster-boys for allah ....

  • Get a bus, and make it look EXACTLY LIKE a real London one (down to numbers, painting, all markings), and pack under the seats, the equivalent weight of explosives as a full passenger-load (like over 4 tonnes), drive it into a major bus/rail interchange (London Bridge, Victoria, etc...) and detonate at middle of morning rush-hour?
  • Get approx 30 lorries, pack with similar quantities of explosives, drive off, and park them over/under where all the main rail-and-UndergounD routes cross the N & S circular London roads. Drivers abandon ship, are picked up by car, dropped in side-streets. Lorries all explode at approx 08.30 hrs. That would screw London for MONTHS.
  • There is a place (I'm not saying where) where an abandoned U-G station still has its air-shaft visible. Guess what is on the old station site? A petrol station. That's right - you go down the shaft, rig the signals to red, wait until youve got four full morning-rush trains backed up, then detonate. You could easily kill over 2000 people by asphyxiation alone, that way.
  • Plant a bomb in EXACTLY the right place in the middle of the Thames .....
  • Unless, and until we get real over proper security, like refusing to deal with even "moderate" muslims who still advocate shariah, and the subjugation of women, and start emulating the intelligence operations (but, I must emphasise NOT the interrogation methods) of Sir Francis Walsingham, who led the anti-terror system the LAST time we had a collection of religious loonies trying to take us over, then we are screwed.

    Oh one last thought on suckurity here Depressing, isn't it?


    I was thinking about a long screed about how, if'n I wuz a terrorist, I'd really cause lotsa damage.

    Forget it.

    Yes, travel sucks, on an objective level. Yes, we're guarded by cardboard cutouts.

    How to make it worse? --Go all retrofuturistic. Imagine that we're getting 1960s level airline service, for rates that have decreased exponentially over the years, following some variant of Moore's Law. This forgets that airlines are not virtual, and they only scale to a limited degree. --Ignore the past or the rest of the world. I wonder what Dickens or Mark Twain had to put up with when they were doing author tours? Just as an example. Or imagine doing an author tour in modern-day Africa--the peaceful parts, I mean, not the Sudan.

    Could be worse.

    Seems like the best thing to do is to practice sleeping in chairs. That will also be useful in boring meetings.


    A bit of maybe relevant background --- My wife has worked in the travel industry for nearly 40 years. The last 20 as a professor at the Ontario college level.

    Carol adamantly refuses to fly out of the USA after our last experience two years ago in Miami (MIA). After a cruise we were flying back to Canada. She requires a cane to walk. Understandable that her cane has to go through the x-ray machine since every middle aged woman owns either a sword or gun cane. They, however, wouldn't return the cane after the x-ray check so she could walk through the metal detector --policy. They also did not have a 'safe' courtesy cane.

    Bye the bye --- I arrived here via a link in an economics blog.


    Here's something I first posted back in June of 2000:

    ...given the myriad and obvious opportunities for terrorist/unconventional attacks, why do so few of them happen?

    This first came to my attention in the early 1990's, in connection with GPS technology. It was obvious even then that mortar-fired PGMs were only a matter of time -- meaning a bad guy with a van parked in Arlington could drop his first round into the Oval Office.

    Eek! But then one of our group, an ex-FBI SAC, pointed out that vulnerability to bad guys was nothing new; so why worry about one more mode of attack?

    And it was true. Going around Washington thereafter, I was on the watch for damage that a person equipped with a few pounds of Semtex, maybe a recoilless rifle in a van, could do. My yellow legal pad was soon filled up. The very favorite example was the River Entrance to the Pentagon, where various people carting boxes containing computers and documents could get directly under the SecDef's office before encountering a guard.

    Why don't the baddies out to destroy the Republic do this stuff? I dinna ken.

    Of course, 911 came along the next year, but I think that the amount of actual terrorism outside the Middle East is still way less than the opportunities for it might lead one to fear. Which is a good thing, of course.


    Allen: given the myriad and obvious opportunities for terrorist/unconventional attacks, why do so few of them happen?

    Two reasons:

    1) Terrorists are (almost always) stupid,

    2) Terrorists are very rare.

    Apropos (1), the guy who flew his plane into an IRS office is a case in point. He can afford a plane -- how come he couldn't afford a second-hand truck and a trailer full of home-brew ANFO, like Timothy McVeigh?

    Apropos (2), don't get me started. If we were serious about saving lives we wouldn't focus on terrorism: policy would be to negotiate with political factions who have grievances and treat random bampots as a police problem, while focussing money and resources on AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENTS (which in the USA alone kill as many people as 9/11 EVERY SIX WEEKS) and HEART DISEASE (kills EVEN MORE).

    But that's the point about terrorism: peoples' response to it isn't rational.


    Really, it does both. The typical passenger, facing the security restrictions, feels like they would after a ritual cleansing of evil terrorist spirits, and it contributes to a general sense of fear and unease that makes them more willing to accept future restrictions. Win-Win, don't you think?



    So Charlie,

    You're saying terrorists are like wasps? Small, stupid, and scary out of all proportion? Kind of agree with that.

    Don't forget, the terrorists are using technology and training that's largely the product of the Cold War, from the CIA (and other TLA) improvised explosives and insurgency training to the internet via DARPA.

    We're seeing the same thing with the various drug wars, which employ a lot of ex soldiers.

    Come to think of it, the informational legacy of various wars seems to be every bit as dangerous and long-lasting as the toxic chemicals deposited in the environment and the infrastructure destroyed.


    It depends.

    Splinter groups from the radical end of some movement or other are small, stupid, and scary out of all proportion -- I'd even put Al Qaida in that category. They're best dealt with by treating the violent headcases as a policing problem, and meanwhile identifying whatever's inflaming the community they come from and giving them what they want (within reason).

    At the other end you get groups like the Provisional IRA in the 1970s, or the PLO in the 1970s and 1980s, or Hezbollah in Lebanon from the mid-1990s, to the LTTE: at that point they tend to have lots of men in uniform with guns, and an attached political/diplomatic apparatus, but haven't quite made the transition to acting like a "respectable" government or political party. So a combination of military stick and diplomatic carrot is necessary: you can't eliminate them short of full-scale civil war, but if you can pursuade them to negotiate you can normalize relations with them and defuse/demilitarize the conflict.

    (I don't think the continental USA has faced an internal insurgency of the latter kind -- one that demands a military/diplomatic response, rather than a police/internal-politics one -- since the Civil War. Which may explain why they're so crap at dealing with terrorism: there's no cognitive model for it.)


    "1) Terrorists are (almost always) stupid,"

    Many terrorist groups call themselves freedom fighters or supporters of the downtrodden or defenders of some abstract concept such as religion. They do not think of themselves primarily as terrorists. They have resons for what they do and the attacks they make on the perceived enemy are legitimate in their eyes. That's worth remembering when planning how to respond to their actions. Stupid terrorists are usually easy to deal with and they often don't last very long -- the Symbionese Liberation Army, for example or the Red Brigades. That's not to say that a stupid terrorist organisation can't have smart people running operations even if they're not in charge. A figurehead is a useful tool to have, visible and not operationally involved so difficult for the other side to kill or capture.

    My thesis is that the current #1 terrorist bogey-man, Al-Queda is in fact one of the less clever terrorist groupings of recent decades. They got lucky with one well-planned operation in 2001 and have been riding their luck ever since with limited success and quite a few major failures. Their figurehead, Osama bin Laden is just that, he has little or no operational control of the organisation. Killing him now would have little effect on Al-Queda as it exists today, but it is not in fact particularly effectual.

    As for Mr. Stack, the computer programmer (another engineering type I notice) I do not see him as a terrorist of any stripe. Flying into the IRS building in Austin was a gigantic "FUCK YOU" to his perceived oppressors but that's all it was, an act of suicide by an individual which killed one or two others and did some spectacular property damage. For such attacks to cause terror and thus be terrorist attacks they need an organisation behind them that can launch more such attacks with a reserve of willing and able volunteers. There have been lone terrorists in the past -- the Unabomber, for example or even the two-man Virginia sniper team but they were not suicide attacks, neither was the McVeigh bombing in Oklahoma City. In those cases propagating terror was the reason for the attacks and so they could well be labelled terrorist actions.

    Smart terrorists? The Provisional IRA is one such group. Another would be the Stern Gang Zionists in the British Palestine Mandate territories in the 1940s. A significant reason to mark them down as successful is that they got what they wanted (or a large part of it) and members of the groups who committed mass murder in the past were forgiven of their sins and allowed back into polite society.


    At Logan, a couple of years back, they arrested an MIT student who was foolish to try to meet somebody while wearing a bit of homemade jewelry with LEDs on a circuit card. When she asked for information about the flight that she was there to meet, a panicked desk clerk called security. Circuitry and flashing lights = bomb, right? (it does on the TV shows) The most sad-amusing thing was that this happened in the unsecured area, and the student, who wasn't even traveling and had no luggage, was surrounded by a crowd of departing passengers, many toting uninspected suitcases large enough to hold enough explosive and shrapnel to kill nearly everybody in the outer terminal.

    It's probably not the overworked security inspectors who are best positioned to notice a threat, but rather other incidental staff, like the desk clerk who raised the alarm--but they have to be taught what to look for, because everybody has been indoctrinated with mostly false media notions about what terrorists and terrorist devices look like


    I've never flown and with the increasing pkd/orwell like insanity i'm really not sure i'd want to. It'd have to be incredibly worth it or unavoidable, entering the States particularly. You can take this, you can't take that, transparent bags, so many fluid ounces, make sure it's not a gram overweight... oh and we'll get a naked scan of you please! I'll pass thanks. What's next? Racially segregated lines? Saliva swabs and realtime DNA checks? Zero stimulation for the duration of the flight? No leaving of seats or reading or music... any entertainment distraction. Meanwhile, a terrorist explodes his underwear. His frakking underwear!

    What i really want to know is can you at this point in time refuse to enter a pornography scanner and go for the traditional feel-me-up and/or metal detector instead? If you can then i can't see that lasting as they become more widespread.


    Please troll elsewhere. This bridge is mine.


    Ben @6: What you describe actually happened:

    You may have forgotten because, as we all know, there weren't any terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during the Bush administration.

    All that was committed by a crazy man and a boy he kidnapped. They were so poor they had to steal most of their equipment. If John Allen Muhammad hadn't ratted himself out, they could still be out there. If they had better financing or training, it could have been 10x worse...


    The Texan incident with the plane is rather close to terrorism though, seeing as it involved violence or threat of violence to civilians to further a political point. Thus the issue of a further organisation behind it is irrelevant.


    Riddle me this folks - what's going to happen with security when some die hard true believer either uses a enema and then packs the large intestine with plastic explosive, or surgically implants a bomb?


    Re jet lag --- my understanding is that the claims for melatonin in this connection are not substantiated.

    I used to feel horrible every time I went to Europe from the States for a conference. Many days of poor sleep, during at least one of which I would be sure to get my body clock far enough off that I would get no sleep at all.

    I've given up on being holistic, healthy, etc. Now I just hit jet-lag with the big pharmaceutical club: I get my physician to give me a prescription for 1 Ambien/day for the duration of the trip. Nothing short of that has ever worked for me.

    Your mileage may vary, of course....


    I was at my nephrologist's yesterday and every other woman about my age (54) had a cane.

    I stand up to go through the metal detector, but sometimes I wobble enough that I touch the detector so I won't fall, and they make me go through again.


    And why did the guy with the plane-into-the-IRS make his wife and daughter homeless without the insurance from the home because he burned it himself? This wasn't just against the IRS.


    rpg@57: I find that the carefully timed consumption of caffeine and alcohol gets me back into the right time zone pretty quickly.

    Of course, tonight I neglected the "alcohol" component.


    Trolling? How am i trolling? I'm merely joining the discussion and asking a genuine question because nowhere have i seen it addressed.


    @49: Charlie, the US government is great at dealing with terrorists. If you haven't read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, I highly recommend it. The basic idea is that a crisis represents a wonderful opportunity for any government or business that can take advantage of it. They welcome terrorist attacks, particularly ones that don't cause too much damage but are highly scary. Haliburton and Goldman Sachs are also highly skilled at making money off crises. There's talk that Goldman Sachs is now primarily in the business of generating financial bubbles to profit from.

    As for we (the citizens of the US), who get crapped on by these tactics (actually, that's we, the little people of the world), I'd suggest wising up and cutting "them" off at the ankles with whatever sharpish policy and economic tools we can muster.

    @56: Supposedly, the enema bomb attack already was tried against a Saudi prince, who survived. The attacker did not. Basic problem seemed to be a relatively small charge surrounded by a reasonably good explosion damper.


    Andy: stories like the (urban legend?) of the US carrier hired to fly troops out to Irag/Afghanistan?. The troops all lining up had to put their nail clippers and such like in the hold or bin them before boarding, and yet they were all carrying their weapons!

    Not urban legend. A friend and former employee who's in the Hawaii Air National Guard confirmed to me this happens on every military flight he's on. When they fly to the Big Island for maneuvers, everyone has to divest themselves of their nail-clippers and pocket knives, before collecting their M-16s to tote on-board.


    I assume that the grunts aren't allowed to have any ammo for the M-16s (in the cabin), so it's a little less silly than it looks at first glance.


    Charlie @ 49 I might dispute your classification. Hamas are certainly Nazis, and Hizbollah may be. We CAN'T negotiate with them, because they are still figting WWII ...... And HOW do you deal with nutters who insist that all women should be kept as undeucated breeding slaves, other than kill them all? Have you got time to re-educate them to atheism?

    Agree about the REAL size of the threat, no matter how unpleasant it is for those near the respective ground zeroes - my wife caught the backwash of the Aldgate/Liverpool St tube bomb, f'rinstance.

    Meanwhile on another planet, or maybe this one Aliens are or may be staring at us ... says the Astronomer Royal ???


    @Clifton: It's always nice to get a story substantiated, if only 2nd hand - like a mate's aunt who works as a tour guide around Windsor Castle reporting some American tourists she overheard saying "Gee. What a swell castle, but why'd they build it so near Heathrow" ...

    As a number of us have proposed gruesome ways to be "better terrorists" (including me earlier!) I'd like to point to an alternative strategy that tends to be really quite successful, especially if you have people ready to commit suicide: Self Immolation There were a number of such incidents many years back, often involving Indians (Asian rather than American) protesting about various things. Turn up outside the embassy of the country who has offended you and do the Human Torch thang. If you could coordinate a number of such events at embassies around the World so much the better! This is VERY visible to the media and has the wonderful effect of turning public opinion to your side ... you must have a genuine grievance to do something so horrific and the public want to know what it is! So ... you don't end up killing and maiming innocent bystanders and get the public on your side! Not sure how this sort of suicide would relate virgin-wise though.


    That response is a classic troll come-back.

    "Who, me? I'm just engaging in honest debate."

    No, you are not. You started by stating that you've never flown in your life. Your opinions on the subject are therefore just that -- opinions, and opinions which are not based on experience or study, either.


    Well, I have flown. The last time I flew was in early 2005, when my father was in the hospital, dying, and I kept being "randomly" chosen to be groped by TSA because I'd bought last-minute one-way tickets.

    I have not flown since then, and the "security theatre" -- which has gotten worse since then -- is the main reason. I strongly dislike being touched by strangers, especially when there's no point to it.


    errolwi: "I assume that the grunts aren't allowed to have any ammo for the M-16s (in the cabin), so it's a little less silly than it looks at first glance."

    Except for the fact that the troops are not 'not allowed to have any ammo', since the bullets are available commercially, and any soldiers going through training have a chance to pocket the odd magazine.


    I've often wondered about the "why don't they attack outside security?" question.

    One answer I've heard is that bomb materials are actually much harder to get in the US than is generally supposed. Note that Captain Underpants was flying into the country.

    I remember the late Michael Hammer (of "Re-engineering" fame), decades ago, outlining the modus operandi of the Beltway Snipers in conversation. He was thinking of it as a novel, but decided not to write it because it might give the bad guys ideas...

    As for melatonin, there was a big fad for it a decade or two ago, and I remember using it for jet lag and not getting much if any effect. Obviously, your mileage may vary on this.


    Just back from weeklong swing through Mobile World Congress and then Berlin. Following airports: LHR-3, MAD, BCN, MAD, LHR-3, LHR-5, TXL, LHR-5.

    I'd score Heathrow T3 bottom for sheer low-ceilinged tatty, mammoth queues, suckurity. Madrid-Barajas and Iberia get trollrated for collapsing in a pool of their own fluids because they saw a snowflake. Also, no idea which gate you're flying from 20 minutes before slot time? Fail. 2 hours delay follows. Arrive just in time for second plane. Exit from jetway blocked by queue for transfer desk. Ran from H05 to J56 with tie, trolleydolly trolley, etc. Norman Foster's terminal building is too long. Oddly, nobody even looked at my passport.

    2nd plane delayed 40 mins. Barcelona has a giant new terminal; it's utterly great - it has actual courtyards of real public space! with things growing! and it's efficient - well, more so than Iberia.

    Heathrow 5 - works very well, a sort of PFI Heaven. Next flight - British Airways, so everything was reasonably OK. By comparison to Barca, though, not much to write home about architecturally.

    Tegel - nice bit of cold-war space station kitsch, small enough that it can distribute all the processing, from check-in to boarding, to the individual gates. And it looks like a French idea of our L5 future in about 1978. Of course, the problem here is that this doesn't scale well, and it demands a Tegel- or Tempelhof-like building - either circular or semicircular.

    Other notes; in a week of three countries, I only got to the point of getting a "You have spent £££ on data services" text on the last day. Data roaming is getting cheaper.


    DaveL - finding bomb materials even in the UK requires a little thought but is doable. I can't seem to find any iodine in a chemists anymore, I wonder why?
    For the USA, I suspect its partially related to the war on drugs, because many chemicals of utility in torturing organic molecules can be used to make things that burn very fast.


    It is valid to have opinions about things you have not experienced first hand.

    Colour me too as one who doesn't understand why you considered Tim's first comment as trolling.


    w.r.t. Tim (post No 52): I didn't read that as a troll either, but hey ho, it's not my blog!

    His question: ... can you at this point in time refuse to enter a pornography scanner and go for the traditional feel-me-up and/or metal detector instead?

    As I understand it, if you are (randomly) selected for scanning you are perfectly at liberty to refuse and they will then politely refuse to let you board the 'plane.


    For me the interesting question about terrorists is why they never do anything likely to advance their own cause one iota. If anyone can answer that we would have learnt something significant.


    Ken: the interesting question about terrorists is why they never do anything likely to advance their own cause one iota.

    What? Like the French Resistance? Or the ANC? Or what is now the Palestinian Authority? Or Menachem Begin? Or the New England rebels who overthrew their rightful government then fought a guerilla war and ran loyalists out of town with fire and the sword?

    Terrorism is a bit like treason: if it's successful, it ends up being forgotten or forgiven (or at least swept under the rug).


    Reminiscent of Beyond the Fringe, re Kenyatta: "That was when we thought he was a Mau-Mau terrorist. Now, of course, we realize that he was merely a freedom fighter".


    One answer I've heard is that bomb materials are actually much harder to get in the US than is generally supposed.

    Well, not that much harder -- for one thing, sales of ammunition are pretty much unrestricted. Coming up with, say, 10 kg of reasonably explosive material wouldn't be a challenge. A tonne might be harder and require a bit more ingenuity.

    And then there are our famously porous borders. I live near the southern one and have had occasion to chat with people of uncertain immigration status who didn't seem to think getting across was a big challenge. (The word colloquially used for the process, "brincar", means "to hop", perhaps implying a certain lack of arduousness.) The drug entrepreneurs seem to agree.

    So I doubt that lack of explosive materials is a major factor in explaining the US' relatively terror-free environment.


    Yeah that's what i thought, that they would simply refuse you to fly with no optional feel-me-up and/or wand thingy. You have to be randomly selected to go through these monstrosities though? I thought everyone would have to go through them, apart from minors. Again i ask because i cannot find any clarity with the right to refuse based on the, quite significant to some of us, matter of personal privacy.

    Charlie, i have many better things to do before i start trolling message boards.


    Bomb materials harder to get in the US? How about a teenager who kept them in his closet?


    No, if you refuse to go through the scanner, they do a hands-on search.


    Re: DavidL 70 --- most of the things that go bang are no longer sold in chemistry kits ... damned wimpy things kids now get -- little wonder they spend all their time playing video games.

    As guthrie says in 72 -- some smart search and you can find. I have 102 grams of ferric chloride (not an explosive ingredient to my knowledge) sourced from my BIL who is a chemistry prof. Tincture of FeCl is a wonderful coagulant no longer sold that I keep in my first aid kit --- possibly not sold for some reason unbeknownst to me but works incredibly quickly in stopping blood flow in even the most nasty cuts. Through normal channels I would have been buying pounds of the stuff --- even what little I have is easily 50 lifetimes worth.

    Iodine is still sold in Canada but difficult to find for reason. It hurts when used since it burns body tissue and there are better alternatives.

    I do advocate small airports. Far, far, less hassle. Again about two years ago we flew out of ALA (best look that up;-). Easy and quick with only some minor quirks such as the soldiers dressed as something out of a Marx brother's flic. Try a general aviation carrier if you can afford even from the largest airports -- smooth as silk and what flying used to be 40 years ago.. Um --- best not give ideas :-)


    Barry, I assume bullets are taken off the troops prior to boarding with the same level of enthusiasm and diligence as the nail clippers and pocket knives (and bayonets, and grenades). Happy to be proved wrong by anyone with actual knowledge, but letting them carry their unloaded personnel weapons is no more perverse than allowing duty-free (glass) bottles of booze (which actually have a history of over-coming hi-jackers!).


    Terrorism is a bit like treason: if it's successful, it ends up being forgotten or forgiven (or at least swept under the rug).

    Ha! I've just finished TMW. 'The old scar on Angbard's cheek twitched. "It's never treason if you win."'


    Point-of-interest: there are no Wal-Marts in Seattle.


    Marilee: the rules on the perv-scanners and hand-searching are different in the UK and the USA. In the USA you get to request the hand-search. In the UK, if you don't want the perv-scan, you don't fly.


    Security screening has 2 purposes: (1) to make air travel safer, (2) So that the people whose job is to make air travel safer can plausibly say 'we tried' next time something does go wrong.


    International air travel is terrific.

    You get to your destination over ten times faster than you would on the alternative, some big ocean liner.

    Even with five security checks to pass (which I did from a recent trip from the middle east to USA), it's still over ten times faster than the alternative. I suppose jet lag is not a problem for the boaters.

    Air travel is far cheaper than it has ever been in history. You can buy business class tickets for nearly the same price as regular tickets cost in the 70s (adjusted for inflation). In gallons per passenger mile the airplanes are far more efficient and emit far less CO2.

    Sure, it could be a lot better. I still think it's amazing; tubes of meat descended from chimps have figured out how to travel half way around the planet in less than a day and it's a safe, everyday occurrence.

    Kids: Get off my lawn.


    @ 88 BOLLOCKS

    Like I said, until about 5 years back, I had never flown, and didn't want to. It's not the FLYING that bothers me, its the airports and the "security" farce - and it is a very bad farce.

    A WASP-atheist like me should just be able to walk on to a plane with no more trouble than getting on a train. But I can't. Even flying for less than an hour requires I arrive at the terminal " HOURS befrore scheduled take-oof, and go therough the moronic supposed security scans. MY metal-tagged trouser zipper pulls (the zips are plastic ALWAYS set the scanners off. A freind whi even more careful always sets the scaners off (The last time we all went through (That's right we go as a group to see frends) he was ultra careful, and STILL the damned thing went "bleep" - and we all cheered and danced - which REALLY confused the security-morons.

    Fuck all of them. As soon as we get a direct London-Köln &/or London-Amsterdam HS-rail service, I'm giving up on flying .....


    1) Greg, just take the Thalsys to A'dam or Koln. Seat61 is yr man here.

    2) Upthread someone called the Red Brigades incompetent terrorists. That's not my understanding of the situation. Perhaps they might have meant the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof)?

    3) Eee, you lot who worry about flights but haven't got small children have it easy. If stressed, use the "Yes, it's shit, but think how much less fun it would be with a 2-year old" mantra as a way of counting your blessings.

    4) There's a similar hotel set-up to Schipol at Kuala Lumpar International, right in the middle of the transit terminal. Handy.


    As soon as we get a direct London-Köln (presumably that word salad's Cologne; it's messed up in my browser) &/or London-Amsterdam HS-rail service, I'm giving up on flying .....

    We got your London - A'dam HS Rail service right here.


    Trouble is, after that nap I wake up feeling as if I've got most of the symptoms of flu (except for the fever and severe joint pains), and it lasts for days
    [My emphasis]

    Charlie, a semi-serious suggestion, if west-east jetlag hits you this hard why not look into going by sea for the return leg?

    Granted it's sufficiently niche that it'd be more hassle to set up and the trip would still take longer than your jet-lag decompression time (transatlantic crossings take about 7-10 days I think), but you could be productive for the whole voyage and, from what you've described of your working style, there are several authorial tasks you have which call for a week or so of uninterupted time.

    Plus it'd be interesting to get a close-up look at the liver'n'lights of a big container vessel, no?

    Regards Luke


    We've found that if flying from the northern end of the East Coast of the US to the UK, that taking a daytime flight makes the jet lag much, much easier to cope with. There's not as much choice, but there are several flights from New York and Boston that depart around 8 or 9 am local and arrive in London around 8 to 9 pm local. Not perfect but far preferable to an overnighter.


    Chris #90 - A couple of years ago my cousin flew from NBew Zealand to Scotland (with a change or two) with a 3 and a 1 year old. HUsband left behind. Apparently playing the woman with cute children card worked very nicely with attention from cabin staff and nobody else willing to get in her way.


    The bit on the plane's the easy bit, mostly - especially if the airline hails from a pro-child culture. They can't escape, and you don't have to carry much stuff. It's the airport bit...


    Yes, but in the US, if you then refuse the hand-search, you don't fly. It's just another option compared to the UK.


    @89: "A WASP-atheist like me should just be able to walk on to a plane with no more trouble than getting on a train."

    I'm not going to even get into the number of things wrong with that statement... except for one. How the hell do you prove you're a WASP-atheist? Genetically WASP atheists are indistinguishable from the Provisional IRA. Unless you want to get into the whole religious tests thing, which seem to cause more death and political instability in the UK than just about anything except a football riot or mad cow.


    A WASP-atheist like me should just be able to walk on to a plane with no more trouble than getting on a train.

    Well, that's a bit bigoted. There've been several white terrorists; I don't think we can assume any person is not a terrorist. There are very few terrorists in general, though.

    Plus, in the US, they've started at least checking some train passengers.


    To take a contrarian position for a mo. The problem here is if you're a frequent but low value traveler, the system is completely borked.

    If you're a frequent traveler in coach but stick to the same airline, then it's tolerable, and you can come up with a series of mitigation strategies.

    If you're a frequent flyer outside of coach, then the reaction to reading this would be Wah? Wuddayamean?

    Back in the old days of going to Seattle. Leave flat, take cab to LHR 90ish minutes before the flight leaves. Waltz through T4 First Class check-in, I had a Gold Card you know, wander through the security fast track, have time for a quick glass of bubbly in the first class lounge, then saunter to board at the last minute and doze in your flat bed for 9 hours.

    You might have a problem with immigration but generally speaking you're off the plane first and most US airports also had a premium flyer immigration fast track too.

    On the odd occasion I've been in Long Haul First Class they had to pry me out of the seat with a crow bar. There's only so much cavier and vintage wines a man can take, but after 13 hours on Cathy Pacific I hadn't reached my fill.

    But to get to this level, with frequent upgrades and associated perks, I was flying somewhere in the region of 250,000 miles a year and, like George Clooney's character in Up In The Air, I had a series of strategies and a near encyclopedic knowledge of every airport I used frequently, down to where to queue, how to shave seconds of the process etc...

    Sadly now life is significantly harder, but I'll pay to make it easier if I can. I've paid for the year of Premium Economy on United, I pay for pre-boarding and security fast-track if it's available. I'll seek Business Class deals to increase points and frequent flyer status just to ensure I don't have to handle the crud.

    It's a system designed to reward the people who are worth the most.


    One extra point. I flew back from my Mobile World Congress trip via T1 LHR, basically one of the nastier terminals in the world.

    But, at 6am on a Sunday morning it was almost delightful.

    T5 seems ok, but last time I flew through it I had a BA Gold Card so it was through security and straight to the champagne bar in the lounge before flying.

    Barcelona's new terminal was pretty nice, but the Easyjet ghetto was a nasty sub-section - quelle suprise there.

    My route back sucked being an airmiles ticket but IAD (Dulles) had a simple change even if the United Airlines lounges were dire - but the free wifi streamed Hulu.

    Denver was vile and the free wifi was unusable.

    For me, fav airports: - LHR (with BA Gold Card) - Hong Kong (especially with One World Gold Card) - Seattle - San Diego

    Worst: - Chicago O'Hare - hate, hate, hate - Frankfurt - hate, hate, hate - La Guardia - JFK


    Hong Kong airport is so good it's a breeze in economy class on a budget airline, KL and Changi are also both excellent , Beijing's new airport is also very smooth but has poor quality time spending facilities (bars shops etc)

    for the worst LAX, JFK, and Heathrow T3, Dont see the problem with Frankfurt always found it very smooth


    If Schiphol isn't convenient, you could try Frankfurt - I had to visit corporate HQ in California at short notice, went out from Edinburgh via Newark (and agree with you, it wasn't a nice journey) and came back via Frankfurt - no flight changes inside CONUS, sensible security, eveything fine.

    As for military trooping flights, the British Army generally dislikes RAF movement personnel for such reasons, and yes, you can keep the automatic weapon but have your lighter and pocketknife removed. The RAF reasoning is that any aircraft (even a military one) flying along civil routes may have to divert to a civil airfield - and as such, has to conform to ICAO regulations. Guns are fine, sharp pointy things aren't... (the RAF just doesn't trust squaddies not to start playing with fire, poking holes/cutting things, or other stuff ill-conditioned to the maintenance of an aircraft)

    Ammunition is fine - I used to travel regularly with a target rifle and associated ammunition (less these past three years). I can turn up at the departure gate and put them in checked baggage, the only restriction is that they mustn't be in the same bag, the bags mustn't be accessible from the cabin, and I'm allowed a maximum of 5kg of ammunition in a sealed metal container (that's about 1500 rounds of 0.22LR, or just under 200 rounds of 7.62NATO). Next time you're at an airport, look for long cases that might be piano keyboards... you'll probably see at least one.

    Granted, I got asked to unpack the rifle in the ticket/baggage check-in at Munich airport once, but that was just curiosity on the part of the Bundesgrenschutz - they wanted to check the serial number. The British behind me in the queue gasped, the Germans in the queue shrugged...

    As my father said, "security has to make sense"...


    Further to the "there just aren't that many of them" point:

    Are you, or is anyone you know, suicidally attached to any particular point of view, and furthermore willing to kill other people to raise awareness of that point of view?


    Thought not.

    So why do people assume that people like that are numerous inside of any given group?

    There were only 3 planes on 9/11 because they could only find 19 guys. It would have been 30 planes if there'd been 190...


    Martin, Frankfurt is indeed convient for eastbound flights ... but it's approximately 1200km east of Edinburgh, which is in exactly the wrong direction for flights to the USA! As New York is 5250km, flying there via Frankfurt adds 50% to the distance (not to mention an hour each way in flight time).

    Even going via Schiphol or Paris is undesirable, although they shave around 1000km off the diversion; and London's barely any closer to Edinburgh.

    (I would be very happy indeed if Aer Lingus were to join Flying Blue; Dublin is in the correct direction for me when visiting the USA, and has the added bonus of a bilateral arrangement enabling passengers to clear US Immigration on Irish soil before departure. Unfortunately Aer Lingus isn't in an alliance with anyone else at all and don't fly enough routes for their frequent flier scheme to be useful -- unless you live in Dublin and routinely go trans-Atlantic.)


    Frankfurt - if you're flying a British Airline the security theatre is just insane. 3 physical barriers with mandatory pat downs and a check at the gate. Completely insane overkill.


    Roy (#92) is right, daytime flights are the answer, though they are rare and often more expensive.

    I get up bright and early (4:15 AM) and find my way to UA 922 leaving Dulles at 9:30AM. Work hard on the flight, don't nap, and LHR arrival at 10PM. Off to the hotel, eight hours' sleep, and then on to the European destination, even EDI.

    Other than a slight buzz the second night over there, all works great, no lost days, no flu symptoms, and LHR is okay at 9:30PM.

    I make sure that people who invite me over understand the schedule and costs. Works great.



    @ 96/7 Oh, you noticed the flags, did you? Well done!

    Precisely - PROFILING.

    NOT "Random" checking of everyone. What insanity.


    6 + billion people on the earth. Literally unlimited opportunities for "terrorist acts". Yet, there are very very very few that occur.

    Tells me one thing: humans just do not want to deliberately hurt eachother, at least outside of organized warfare and criminal behaviour.

    Its a shame that we are scared by what Charlie has described on his recent trip, and what Bruce Schneier calls "security theatre".

    Its a shame because while humans may not want to deliberately hurt eachother, this false "security theatre" cheapens and diminishes a more real necessity for security from rapidly approaching GNR (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics) threats*.

    Further, false "security theatre", because it is irrational and unproductive, has allowed huge constituencies of population to polarize, rightly so, against the injustices of a security state, but at the cost of recognition that a security state may be necessary to control the real, great magnitude GNR threat.

    Its the boy who cried wolf all over again ...

    • Of course, I am referring to what Bill Joy wrote in his essay "Why the future doesn't need us - Our most powerful 21st-century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech - are threatening to make humans an endangered species".

    GNR could also take us down to paradise city.


    People seeking martyrdom don't seem rare, as they've been in the news, often with regularity, for years, in the form of suicide bombers. I suspect a combination of factors is in play, such as willingness to die, ability to pass at least cursory security, checks, etc. These people must be found, trained, and pooled for a large attack to succeed. There's also an operational security issue, in that the chance of your operation being blown is directly related to the size of the operation.

    It would help to be at least attempting to execute some sort of plan with a fair chance of success. Unworkable binary liquid 'explosives', etc., are pretty much right out the door. I suspect that the current opponents being idiots has more to do with the lack of any successful large scale aviation-related attack than current security measures, which obviously cannot protect against a determined and well-planned attack.

    That is far worse than it sounds. Aviation-related targets get much press, and should presumably receive effective attention. Instead, various political and commercial factors or entwined. For instance, (US, at least) airline were all in favor of requiring ID, though the 9/11 attackers had ID, and there are ample other arguments against the effectiveness of this. I could write a book, but others have.

    So why was this measure received with almost no protest by the airlines? It does add overhead, after all, and you might expect them to protest. Good arguments certainly exist.

    a) People associate 'checking ID' with security. They don't reason at all well about authentication and authorization issues, particularly, in this case, the limits of their usefulness. b) Given a), airlines could be perceived as Doing Something, and acting responsibly, while solving a potential financial problem: the pssibility of an Internet-scale resale market for inexpensive tickets, bought well in advance.

    Again, this became a requirement with almost no opposition from travellers, who were acting against their own best interests, if they'd only thought about it. If either side ever stops and thinks, there will be a substantial change in the state of play.



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    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 20, 2010 1:22 PM.

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