Thanks to terrorists, I have to take off my shoes at airport security, refrain from keeping sufficient quantities of toothpaste on my person during flight, and most recently, hold in my puke until I land. Puking is a civil liberty. Did the Northwestern po-po make you hold in your puke on Dillo Day? No, because they’re awesome and humane. They might be pissed after you puke, but unlike airline security officials, they won’t take you to jail for being a suspected terrorist.
My flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh is an hour long; coincidentally, this is also the amount of time at the end of any flight during which one must remain seated and inactive because of recent terror threats. If you’re like me and many other Northwestern students who rely on air travel, then you’re not too happy about this. You either sacrifice getting wasted the night before or risk looking like a terrorist. It’s a tough call.
So why can’t I puke? It’s all thanks to Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the Nigerian man who tried to bust a hole in Northwest flight 235 on Christmas Day 2009 with his tighty-whiteys. (That’s right, explosive underwear). Somehow, he slipped past airport security at two different airports on two different continents with some PETN (a highly explosive substance) and lit his pants on fire on his transatlantic flight to Detroit. Luckily, thanks to a fire extinguisher and an aggressive passenger, Mr. Sizzly Pants was subdued and taken into custody upon the plane’s landing in Detroit.
The next day, airlines around the world figured it would be a good idea to prevent passengers from moving or doing anything with their laps for the last hour of a flight, lest we have someone try to blow up a plane with a belt buckle.
Seriously, is this what we’ve come to? Timeout for everyone at the end of the flight? Making it illegal to get sick on a plane? This rule is ineffective, unfair and unbelievably inept. But I guess anything is possible after explosive underpants, right? Then again, what’s preventing someone utilizing the first hour of a flight instead of the last? There, I just got around the rule. I’m sure terrorists can, too.
What all this really comes down to is a question of whether or not we’re any safer or smarter than we were in 2001. Sure, we’ve seen a heightened sense of alertness at airport security, more bag checks, more bomb-sniffing dogs, fewer exceptions to the rules, etc. Still, we seem to miss the warning signs more than we should.
Mutallab had appeared on U.S. intelligence reports as having connections to Al-Qaeda in Yemen for weeks prior to the incident. Additionally, his father, a prominent Nigerian banker and well-respected citizen, approached the U.S. embassy in Ahuja expressing concerns that his son had expressed interest in taking up an extremist cause. None of this is really cause for placement on a no-fly list, but it should raise eyebrows when such an individual goes on a trip to Detroit for two weeks with no check-in baggage and (most obviously) no winter coat, in December.
If we keep missing obvious signs like these, terrorists will find a way to take advantage of our ignorance and arrogance as they have for decades, no matter how many courageous frequent flyers we put on our planes. We have to stop making ineffectual regulations, color-coded alert levels, and idiotic random abdominal checks. We have to get smarter about our actions, more creative with our tactics, and learn to use our five senses to at least put up a decent fight.
Until then, we’re kidding ourselves. Wouldn’t you laugh if you found out that the best defense your enemy had against you was to make people cross their legs hold it in like six-year-olds? Hell, we must be a riot.