How United Airlines Flight 93 changed aircraft security
When United Airlines flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania as passengers fought the hijackers that had taken over the craft, the paradigm for aircraft security changed. The previous paradigm was that individuals should not take responsibility for their own safety: This was the job of professionals representing the state. Because of this, self-defense was frowned upon, and often punished, independent of the circumstances. We suspect it is the reason that those on board have not been given any official posthumous honor by the government.
Did this leave-it-to-the-pros paradigm improve safety? This author certainly remembers people getting on international flights in the dim past with loaded guns in their pockets, and having some feeling that the flight was safer because of this. And recently, a friend of ours was summoned to the flight deck, where he was told by the pilot that his bag was being pulled so that he could take out and wear his weapon. He obviously didn’t have to do this: He could always take another flight. The pilot apparently felt that having an armed man on the plane increased safety, so our friend complied.
Now the paradigm has changed. Passengers know that if there is a problem onboard it is their responsibility to deal with the issue. What does that mean in practical terms? What it means is that all the meaningless security theatre surrounding aircraft security serves no valid security function.
Security theatre is important from a political point of view. While it serves no valid security function – indeed is often counter-productive – it allows politicians to claim that they are taking action, and possibly even comforts some of the more gullible passengers. You can, after all, fool some of the people all of the time…
From the perspective of aircraft safety, what should now be done is to get rid of unproductive gate checks and identification requirements, as well as the myriad other silly security-theatre regulations. If you have a valid ticket, you should be able to get on board. And we should allow all sworn officers – of which there are about 310,000 in the U.S. – to carry their weapons onboard if they feel so inclined.
These two actions alone would free up millions of dollars and markedly increase actual aircraft security.