Sixty Three

That’s how many full days left I have in Mexico. Two times thirty one calendar days plus one. The ticket home to the UK is booked for February 16th, a direct flight from DF to London Heathrow. British Airways of all airlines, with whom I had sworn to avoid flying at all costs. Or all reasonable costs. Thing is, it is direct and is one of the cheapest options.

I’m paying just a few dollars extra, and by flying direct I do avoid the ridiculous hassle of going via the US. The body scanners which seem to be creating such an extraordinary fuss don’t bother me in the slightest. They are something which tend to bother* those sort of people who want to feel bothered whenever possible, and who revel in eeking out vague interpretations held within an incredibly outdated document called the Constitution, which they mistakenly believe to hold some magical powers that protects them from the evils of the world.

What bothers me about travelling through the US is the grief of having to collect my checked in baggage, checking it in again, and wading through endless queues. In fact, if body scanning, as gimmicky as it may be, can help speed up at least part of the process, then I’m all for it.

But anyway, I digress. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve flown, and things have changed. Prices for one. I’ve been monitoring fares for months, which have generally been a thousand dollars plus. A few select flights came below that four figure barrier a couple of weeks ago, and I have pounced now as they show signs of rising again.

The fare I’ve bought was the only one that didn’t rise today, and fortunately it was on the day I had earmarked for travel. I’ve been using Hipmunk as my fare monitor of choice, by the way. And very good it is too. I wrote a little something about it a while back. It’s by far the best flight search tool I’ve come across. Flights ordered in an easy on the eye manner, with tabbed searches.

I digress again. Another change, but one that really bothers me. Luggage. One was previously allowed two free pieces of luggage when crossing the Atlantic. Not so anymore. Just one 23kg bag these days. Want to take another? Up to $50 extra for the first extra bag, depending on airline. As much as $100 for subsequent bags. Paola is allowed a grand total of zero free bags of checked luggage when she flies to Milwaukee for Christmas next week.

You can, though, buy the extra luggage allowance online. Which I duly went to do. Alas, I got to the right page only to find that British Airways does not seem prepared to allow me to take a second bag. The drop down menu for the outbound flight is defunct. I will have to investigate. It was going to be hard enough to pack all I want to take into two bags. But to have just one bag?? I’m also going to have to investigate the possibility of having DHL, Fedex or UPS ship stuff to the UK with their luggage services.

* …but I do refrain from suggesting the scanners bother exclusively those who want to feel bothered. Some perfectly right minded people who are not normally bothered by trivial botherations have also been known to object. It’s just that the majority of the botherees who have bothered to record their botheredness, the ones I’ve bothered to read anyway, have tended to be fairly petty, last century sort of persons of a bothersome nature.

17 Comments

  • Well, Gary, I respect your opinion, and in fact, don’t believe we are all that far apart. But to be clear, I don’t advocate zero spending on airline security. I think the measures put in place since 9/11 are largely sensible. But I also think that the incremental steps such as body scanners or pat-downs for everyone are negative-value propositions. And that has nothing to do with putting a cash value on a life. It is just saying that the life of an air traveler is of equal value to that of a hospital patient or that of a motorist, or that of an Iraqi civilian. And I think that incremental dollars spent to save lives in those latter categories will probably save more lives than those dollars spent in addition to the already large sums we are spending on airport screening.

    In any case, thanks for the ever-civilized dialog.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA

    P.S. If you had a vote, I’d be against that snowflake thing. It does weird things to my screen and to my eyes.

    • We’re both too moderate to be too far apart on most subjects I think. Certainly not by enough for pistols at dawn to ever be needed to settle things! And I do think the single most important step in airline security was to lock the bleeding cockpit doors.

      As far as the economics of this go, by the way, I think it’s a pretty trivial item. If I were to sit down and study government spending in the US, and compile a list of the one hundred worst expenditures, these scanners wouldn’t feature in that list. It probably wouldn’t get close to it.

      There’s a few hundred of them so far, and I guess more are to come. At a hundred and seventy thousand dollars a piece, total expenditure by the time the 500th scanner is installed will be less than $100 million. I appreciate that that’s an amount that could buy something substantial elsewhere, but in the big picture of (inefficient/corrupt/wasted) govt spending, it’s small fry. Really small fry.

      So even though I understand why some people think it’s a waste of money, and that it should therefore be brought into the relevant debates, I’m a little perplexed that this issue has been given so much media/blog attention, while most of the other waste slips by without too much, if anything being said.

      Anyway, I’ve probably said more than I’ve got to say on this subject! I’ll leave you with this story, which is thoroughly relevant and fairly amusing. I disagree with him too, but support him all the way!

      Snowflake thing will be turned off – it’s doing my eyes in too. It’s my tech addiction. I see a button, I press the button.

  • Have you ever wondered why we can have an adult discussion like this without getting personal, but our political leaders cannot even come close to discussing issues with any more depth than a bumper sticker — let alone governing? On the other hand, as a libertatrian, I am all in favor of having them yammer away at each other. It usually gets them out of my economic and personal life. Unfortunately, they seem to find time to slow me down in the oddest venues. Like airports.

    • I guess you know the answer, but it helps that most of us commenting here or on other blogs have built up a fairly civil online relationship over a period of years, and even when we have differing opinions, such as this thread, it helps that we’re not competing for votes. Or being paid for our contributions! Everynow and again some twit comes and deposits a load of bile or nonsense on an old post though.

      I’m probably not going to convince anyone of my viewpoint here, but it has to be said my opinion is largely ‘meh’ at the moment, and whilst I can see reason within the security measures (or at least some of them) I’m more excited by the tech than anything else. I’m certainly not as anti-scanner as yourself, Kim or Leah though. My more passionate outbursts will be saved for things which I feel directly impede on freedoms I believe shouldn’t be impeded on. Photography for example.

      By the by, as far as flights and Mexico goes, Virgin America are opening up a couple of routes from the US to Mexico. I hope they open up more. Chicago to DF would be useful for me. I’ve only ever heard good things about Virgin America.

  • Hola Gary,

    My point is simply this. The incremental spend on body scanning at the airport would save more lives if spent elsewhere. Air travel is already ridiculously safe. Combine that with the fact that many people seem to intensely dislike the body scans or searches, and you have a wasteful policy. And my first statement is non-controversial; it can be proven mathematically. If you take a dollar of spending on something with low marginal return and divert it to something with higher marginal return (in this case lives saved), you then have a net gain with no incremental expense. That’s why it’s ridiculous to pursue “perfection” in airport scanning while turning a blind eye to carnage elsewhere.

    Clearly “more” is always better. It’s just a question of how you get that “more.”

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we think some dollars need to be moved from airline security to in-hospital medication errors which kill 100,000 people annually in the USA alone.

    • I do get what you’re saying Kim, and it’s not that I entirely disagree with the points you’re making, but I don’t entirely think airline security is a waste of money. Just to introduce another financial angle to the issue – how costly was 9/11? I don’t mean lives, as costly as it was. Money wise. One quick Bing search turns up a figure of $200 billion odd – and I didn’t include the $40 billion in airline security/Afghanistan operations costs. How accurate that figure is exactly I don’t know, but I’d be surprised if the final tally up was less than a twelve figure sum.

      I’m sure you play every day with stuff the value of which is measured not entirely by bricks and mortar, but confidence and other less physical aspects. How many extra lives could have been saved by allocating that cash to more obviously beneficial causes such as health care had there not been a 9/11? *If those scanners prevent one 9/11 event occurring again, it would be the best money ever spent, and quite possibly a far more cash efficient way to save lives than stamping down on drink driving etc etc.

      *I’m speculating, I know. Maybe a scanner somewhere has already prevented an attempted hijack, maybe one will never be prevented by these machines. The future is a tricky commodity to deal with at the best of times. As much as I am convinced of the futility of our recent wars, of the less than satisfactory standards of health care et al, I am equally convinced that if bringing down jets were easy, there are plenty of nut cases who’d give it a try.

      More so today than ever before. Since 9/11 there have been a number of high profile ‘near misses’ where an effort has been made. It’s not easy, and so trains, malls and airport lounges seem to be more favoured targets at the moment. Which are/can be dreadful, but much less costly from a financial point of view.

      That’s why it’s ridiculous to pursue “perfection” in airport scanning while turning a blind eye to carnage elsewhere.

      I would never suggest that that should be the case. I’d equally argue that an attitude seeking ‘perfection’ (as I have previously described it – within reason) should be taken into other arenas. And sometimes, now and again, it works. The effort to attack smallpox, for example, was not with ‘eradicate most of it’ as the goal. I know, smallpox and airline security are very different. And you could in fact use smallpox as an example of how money has been well spent in the past.

      The decision on money allocation is controversial, and difficult, I get that. I this the airline issue is also a more complex one than most would think – the costs of 9/11 being one often overlooked aspect of the consequences. But my original point was really that some of those who object to the scanners based on principals and ideologies that are, quite frankly, daft. No one who has commented here fits into that category, by the by.

    • I never loved it I must confess. But I’ve tended to take long flights, and the novelty wore off about an hour into my first trip! But it’s better than having to swim home…! 🙂

  • Actually, it makes no sense whatsoever to try to eliminate all risk. There’s such a thing as diminishing returns, and air travel safety has it in spades. If the government put half the effort they put into air safety into other things like reducing hospital medication errors, reducing drunk driving, reducing obesity, or not stupidly invading countries for no good reason, they could save A LOT MORE lives for a lesser cost. That is the problem with these intrusive searches. Do they reduce risk? Slightly. But do they increase the margin of safety? Only infinitesimally, at best. And it seems pretty clear that reasonable people object to them. So they should be stopped.

    Driving in a car is WAAAAAAAYYYYY more dangerous than flying. Let’s try to keep things in perspective.

    And as for you, Mr. Denness, you are at far greater risk going about your daily activities in big bad Mexico City than you would ever be on an airliner with no security, never mind with the security measures that existed two years ago. So stop with this “eliminate all risk” twaddle. You know better.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the last time we flew we decided on the x-rays as the lesser evil, and ended up getting groped anyway.

    • I don’t see trying to eliminate all risk as being twaddle. Perhaps I should have added ‘within reason’. I agree that more effort should be put into stopping other, far more hazardous activities such as drink driving. Would I agree to having everyone breathalysed as they exit car parks and drive ways? No, of course not. That’s not within reason. It’s neither practical, nor possible.

      But I have no problem with anyone who tries to attain a state of perfection, even when it’s clearly not possible. It’s an attitude more than anything else. And I generally prefer an attitude which has ‘100%’ in mind, to an attitude which has ‘half-arsed’ as the mantra. My goal in a previous life as a service station manager was to have a team so well trained and multi skilled that I would become redundant. Was never going to happen, and I was never under the illusion it would, but I set the bar at the limit anyway.

      Diminishing returns, all true. I have a couple of thoughts though. With diminishing returns you get less per dollar. In this case less living people, in theory at least anyway. So then you put a dollar figure on a life. I’m not arguing against the validity of this – it’s a fact of life in many industries. But what is the dollar figure? I dare say in the airline industry it’s higher than elsewhere. But I’d like to see the figures nonetheless. I suspect this is an industry with sharp tipping points. We should have spent money more wisely than invading other countries. These security measures are yet another cost attributable to those little escapades – there are far more people today who’d like to test themselves against these measures than there were ten years ago.

      I do see plenty of reasonable people objecting to them too. So stop them? Plenty of reasonable people approve of them. I haven’t seen many polls, and my expertise on the subject is limited at best, but one on CBS I came across suggests the public overwhelmingly support them. I’m not proposing this poll as proof of my point by the way. It could just mean that 4 out of 5 Americans are stoopid/ that the question was phrased a certain way/that 80% of those questioned were TSA employees and family. But whilst the ‘antis’ are extremely vocal, the ‘pros’ are, as would be expected, less so.

      There’s one final aspect to my argument. The technology aspect, which I could write several thousand words on. But I’ll try and keep it shorter that that. I love it, yet most tech that is utilised to effectively enforce or protect is greeted with ‘Hitler is coming’ exaltations, which instantly irk me. In the UK speed cameras, CCTV cameras and more recently Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras have all got people hot under the collar. But I just don’t care how many times I’m filmed in a day.

      It just doesn’t matter to me. Because I’m keeping on the right side of the law, and the actual risk of abuse by authorities is minimal, because there’s not a lot that you can do with all this footage. In fact, I do feel safer with the cameras around. The only thing in my opinion than being robbed, is the robber getting away with it. And thanks to CCTV more robbers aren’t getting away with it. Nor drunks, nor those who drive without insurance or MOTs, nor shoplifters. Referring again to my former life, I know that good CCTV both reduces the number of people willing to take the chance of driving off without paying for their petrol, and increases the chance of them being found and convicted.

      Lastly, I also try and look at where the tech will go. Wouldn’t it be great to have fairly cheap body scanners that passengers simply walk through without breaking step, that can detect anything untoward without even the need for a human monitor. Quick, cheap, secure systems that speed up the process of boarding and (dare I say it!) eliminate all risk of someone getting on board with instruments of evil intent? I’m for that. We have to start somewhere. I wouldn’t turn on a Commodore 64 today, but I’m grateful someone back down the line made the effort.

      One last point. Last one, I promise. The jury is perhaps still out in many regards on these scanners. If they turn out to be as good (!) as the ‘puff scanners’ then this is a wasted exercise. But I welcome new tech not just for what it does, but what can be developed from it. And as for being ‘gate raped’ as some bloggers have put it – I’ve seen the images. The traditional porn industry won’t be losing any sleep….!

  • I disagree as well. I’m not paranoid or easily bothered. I simple don’t believe in the TSA tactics of treating everyone as a terrorist and their perpetual pursuit of attempting to eliminate all risk in air travel. It’s expensive, it’s intrusive, and it’s impossible.

    • Yes, there are lots of people who seem uneasy about this new tech. But, obviously we’re not seeing this issue the same amigo. Firstly, I think, as unrealistic and unattainable the goal, airport security authorities should be perpetually trying to eliminate all risk. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle.

      The machines are expensive, but if their longevity is sufficient, they could yet be cost effective. And we are all potential terrorists. Picking out people on account of colour, nationality or religion is not the way to go, not least because you’d miss some.

      Intrusive? I can understand why so many people think they are intrusive. I think this is by far the biggest reason I hear. I just don’t personally find them terribly intrusive.

  • Put me in the “bothered because it is silly and futile” category when it comes to the airport scanners. My feeling is they do nothing. Terrorists either get caught in the planning and “heading out to do a bit of damage” stage, or they get through. I have felt that way since the pre-boarding searches began in the early 70s when we were afraid of taking unscheduled trips to Havana.

    If a terrorist wanted to cause havoc, there is always that very inviting security line in airports. Before anyone gets scanned. It doesn’t happen because intelligent services are — well, intelligent. And I am glad they do what they do. TSA is merely performance art.

    But we will all survive. My time in line at Oregon DMV and down here to get my FM3 renewed has told me that life has many silly edges. The trick is to realize that just because something is silly does not mean it was brewed up by Nazis, on retainer to Homeland Security, hiding out in Brazil. People who have trouble drawing the distinction are going to drive themselves into neurotic paralysis.

    • I don’t entirely disagree with you Steve, although I would stop short of wholeheartedly agreeing with you. Couple of thoughts I have – with the caveat that I’ve not gone through a scanner, nor investigated the tech beyond the fact it can show up a weird image of your bits and pieces and probably wouldn’t have caught the pants bomber. More on pants bombers in a bit….

      Intelligence is key. But. It’s also important to make it as hard as possible for would be nutcases. The harder it is, the more likely they will make a mistake, be discovered or simply fail. My initial thought is that if these scanners can (now, or in the future with development) speed up the process through the security lines and be as thorough, or close to, a full pat down – then it gets the thumbs up from me.

      I personally wouldn’t like to get on a plane where everyone is waved through without so much as a by your leave. On the ground, I at least get a sporting chance in the face of an attack. I may get the opportunity to run, duck and hide. Not so at 30,000 plus feet. So it’s simply a matter of how passengers are checked as they go through those lines. Pat down, scanner or whatever else, the method is really irrelevant. I’m sure part of it is simply ‘performance art’. But not entirely. Not at all.

      An awful lot of intelligence comes from terrorists making mistakes. Again, make it harder for them, increase the number of mistakes. And whilst you claim that attacks against the inviting lines at security doesn’t happen – it does. All the time. It did in Rome years ago, with terrible casualties. More recently in Glasgow, which essentially failed. Similar attacks on crowded areas in Mumbai, and yesterdays attempted effort in Stockholm.

      Those last three nutters – maybe they would have gotten on a plane if they thought it was possible, and maybe succeeded. Security successes tend to be invisible. But I’m speculating now.

      Security failures that end in tragedy, by the way, are often down to complacency and a lack of forethought. It still amazes me that on 9/11/01, it was possible for ‘passengers’ to gain access to cockpits. Scandalous.

      You last paragraph – with you 100%.

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