Initially, the announcement that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was permitting airline passengers to carry small bats onto planes made me very excited. “Bats on a plane!” I shrieked. “Get Samuel L. Jackson some leathery wings!”
But then I discovered that they meant the other kind of bats — under a certain weight and up to a certain length, of course. Wiffle bats are mildly exciting, but they’re no winged bloodsuckers.
On Wednesday, the list of things that are considered threats grew even more oddly specific — excluding, for example, toy bats, ski poles and up to two golf clubs. You can carry a knife on board, so long as it isn’t a dangerous, stabby knife. CNN reports: “Knives with blades that are 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) or shorter and less than a half-inch wide will be permitted on U.S. airline flights as long as the blade is not fixed or does not lock into place. Razor blades and box cutters are still not permitted.” And no large bottles of shampoo! Nope. We can all agree that 2.36 inches of blade pose no significant threat, but if anyone makes it to her destination with enough Pantene to last more than two days — well, that would be letting the terrorists win.
Flight attendants are ticked about the move. They may well have a point. Especially during the “sequester” — when airport lines are expected to mushroom into terrifying sprawls of wretched, red-eyed, unkempt travelers — expanding passengers’ access to sharp objects may not be the best plan. Tiffany Hawk, the author of “Love Me Anyway,” a forthcoming novel “about two young flight attendants coming of age at 35,000 feet,” and a former flight attendant herself, writes on CNN.com that, “We need faster and easier checkpoints, but instead of coming up with a novel approach, the TSA wants to go backward. Allowing such weapons just doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, you believe the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a billiards cue is a good guy with a Wiffle ball bat.”
I cannot argue with the idea that what we need is faster and easier checkpoints. But that’s exactly what we ain’t going to get.
We are still permitted to bring onboard with us many more threatening things. Crying babies, for instance. And airplane food! And hack comics making jokes about babies and airplane food! I would much rather sit next to someone with more than two golf clubs.
But honestly, contemplate this ban a moment. “Damn and blast!” some terrorist is saying right now. “How did they know that we were using 2.37-inch blades? We have to abort.”
“I needed at least three golf clubs,” his colleague adds. “Two just won’t cut it.”
“My bat exceeds the weight guidelines,” one of his colleagues murmurs. “How do they know? They’re always so many steps ahead of us!”
“We could try something with comically oversized, inflatable bats,” someone says, hopelessly. “Or Wiffle bats!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” everyone hushes him.
“Hey, they considered those threats for years,” he points out. “Maybe they saw something we didn’t.”
“Or the hip plates of the elderly?” someone else pipes up. “Those seemed risky to them, too. Or, heck, 4-year-olds. In general. They even frisked one. Clearly, we need to dig deeper.”
The minor ridiculousness of this change pales in comparison with the absurdity of the system as a whole. This is the sort of oddly specific parsing that ensues when you take the least nuanced approach possible. Should guards talk to people? No. Just have them take off their shoes. Currently, our airport security system does a wonderful job protecting us against whatever has just happened. And forcing us to buy travel-size shampoos. Actually, as a scheme to encourage the travel-size shampoo industry, it has been an unmitigated success. If nothing else, it’s been a great way to experience exactly what 3 ounces of liquid is!
Just loosening the bans on items that everyone agrees are absurdly innocuous doesn’t necessarily mean we’re moving toward a more sensible policy, though. That seems unlikely. The emphasis is still on the things you carry, not how you carry them.
CNN reported: “TSA spokesman David Castelveter said the changes announced Tuesday will not slow down the screening process by requiring screeners to measure knife blades and weigh plastic bats. Screeners will use ‘common sense’ when applying the rule, he said.”
Given that the last time screeners were asked to use common sense when applying a rule, they were frisking old men with plates in their hips and 4-year-olds, I cannot say that I am overly optimistic.
But you never know. Perhaps I am unduly pessimistic, and this is the beginning of an evolution towards a wiser, more nuanced approach! At this rate, we’ll actually have sensible limits on carry-ons by, oh, 2035 or so.