Sunday, July 13, 2008

Silly rules

I made a trip to Athens recently to visit a conference. On my way back, at Athens airport, a security lady asked me whether I had any liquids in my hand luggage. Yes I did. On short trips, I only carry hand luggage to avoid having to wait for my luggage (or worse), so everything was in my hand luggage. And since I tend to shave myself, brush my teeth and use deodorant, yes, I had liquids in my hand luggage.

That in itself is not the problem, carrying liquids on an airplane is not forbidden. You have to put them in a sealed bag and each item must not exceed 100 ml. All my items did. Here’s a list of my liquids: Toothpaste (125ml), shaving cream (150ml) and deodorant (150ml). A grand total of 425ml, which would have fitted easily into the sealed bag (maximum content 1 liter).

The security lady confiscated all three items, since every single container could hold more than 100ml. I am not mad at the lady, she was just doing her job. It is her job to make people obey the rules, not to think about these rules. Should she have thought about them, she might have realized that I could bring the exact same stuff on board the plane if only I had used more containers, each 100ml or smaller.

Suppose I was a terrorist planning to blow up a plane. And suppose I would need 425ml of fluids to do so. Would I be so stupid as to hide them in three large containers? No way! I would have used 5 smaller ones, each containing 100ml or less. I would have put those in a single plastic bag and sealed it. Once in the air, would you think that the seal on the plastic bag would have stopped me from blowing the plane? Think again.

Here’s the bottom line: it is okay to try to stop terrorists. It is however not okay to come up with silly rules that do nothing to stop terrorists, but that are a nuisance to travelers. And it makes you think. If this is how smart our terrorist-fighters are, how in the world will they stop even one terrorist that had taken a minute to think?

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