TSA: Fighting the last threat, not the next one

Airline security may seem to be more of a national security issue than a “free market issue,” but with aviation experts proposing even more onerous and costly security measures, presumably paid for through higher aviation taxes, the issue becomes economically important.

As Reason’s Jacob Sullum writes:

The reaction to Abdulmutallab’s fizzled bomb shows that the government continues to fetishistically focus on the details of the latest incident and impose conspicuous precautions without regard to whether the security payoff is worth the cost. Because Abdulmutallab used a blanket to conceal what he was doing, the TSA told airlines to ban the use of blankets during the last hour of flights to the United States. Also prohibited during the last hour: getting up from one’s seat, “passenger access to carry-on baggage,” and “personal belongings on the lap.”

Why the last hour? Because that’s when Abdulmutallab tried to set off his bomb. Therefore that is what all terrorists will do.

The TSA also instructed airlines to “disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of flight.” And it forbade “any announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks.”

Those rules, combined with the focus on the last hour of flight, suggest the TSA believes Abdulmutallab wanted his bomb to go off as the plane was approaching Detroit, and it therefore is trying to prevent other bombers from knowing where they are. But these precautions are easily evaded by anyone who does a little preflight research and wears a watch (next on the list of banned items?). In any case, other terrorists may decide to strike at a higher altitude, where the damage caused by an explosion would be compounded by decompression.

With airline passengers already facing heavy tax burdens, it would be great if policymakers would focus on keeping bad people off of planes rather than making passenger flight more costly and difficult for all of us.