Flying without ID Round 2

Yesterday was another opportunity to fly without presenting any ID at the airport. The man at the US Airways counter didn’t give me much trouble beyond the puzzled look and a few questions about how it’s possible to not travel with ID. Going through security was easier this time than last time as they did not frisk me, but they did give me a little bit of trouble while going through my bag.

The first item that got me a few questions was my all metal mechanical pencil (click here for a review). As you can see in the review, the pencil is quite heavy and solid, so I can understand their complaints. In the end, they did not take it away. What was more amusing, was the concern that the two security guys had over my laptop. I currently am missing 1 key off the keyboard from switching the layout to Dvorak (I still have the key, but need to modify it for it to go back on). The guard spent a minute looking at the missing key to see if there were any apparent modifications to the laptop, when he noticed that the keys were not in the right places. He had never heard of the Dvorak layout and, apparently, did not know that layouts other than qwerty existed. I guess my explanations of a more efficient layout were not good enough, and they asked me to turn the laptop on to verify that the “internals have not been modified”. I really wanted to tell them that I have modified the internals, but discretion got the better of me. So I turn the laptop on, and they get to see LILO in all its glory boot Gentoo. Although they were satisfied that the machine was operational, they were not happy that it was using software that they had never heard of. I explained what an operating system was to them and the difference between Windows and Linux, but I don’t think I cleared much in their minds. To see their reaction, I refused to login to the machine when they asked, which prompted them to bring aver their supervisor (an actual TSA agent rather than hired security). I explained the whole Dvorak and Linux thing to the supervisor, who seemed to be a little more understanding. She felt that turning the computer on was enough and let me go.

The trip through security was relatively painless despite the issues that they had with my computer. I think that this shows that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of how computers and electronics in general work. If I had told the security that I was an electrical engineering student, I’m sure that they would have given me more of a problem with the computer. If security really wants to deal with modern electronic threats, they need to start educating their guards in the matter. There are much more dangerous things than Linux that can be brought onto an airplane, not to mention things that are much less conspicuous than a laptop running totally unfamiliar software. Something that comes to mind would be a radio jamming device that could easily be concealed within an operational laptop, calculator, etc. I understand that I am in a much different position than many people who do not use such electronics everyday, but if people are going to spend billions of dollars on security, shouldn’t they actually be familiar with the kinds of threats that can occur? Or, perhaps, it is just the notion of “security” that is the aim. It is clear to me that actual security is trivial, a superficial glaze is all that is necessary to make people feel safe. Personally, I think the fear that people have in regards to air travel security is absurd, so maybe its a good thing that there still is no real security at the airports. Life is hazardous to your health. Deal.


  1. If actual security measures were in place at airports, would not your posterior end be in prison by now? The problem is that people want to be safe, yet at the same time make unreasonable demands in regards to having a “hassle-free” experience at places like airports. If people would just start doing their jobs and actually enforcing the policies that are in place then we might at least have some baseline level of effectual travel security. If that happened, however, then people like you would be decrying the horrible “customer service” conditions at airports and demanding that travel rules be changed. People need to start understanding that the world does not revolve around them and their every whim.

    P.S. – Do you have any idea how much it would cost to educate airport security forces to a level where they would have an intricate understanding of advanced electronic devices? Billions of dollars is a few orders of magnitude off for an undertaking of that scale. I think that you hardcore electrical engineering majors could benefit from a few operations management electives!

  2. I don’t think that I would be in prison if airports had real security, except for the time that I accidentally had a Leatherman in my carry on bag that security missed, but I don’t think that is jail worthy. My argument is that a false sense of security is more dangerous than a lack of security that is well known. And as you say, the cost of proper education is astronomical, and not possible, and the security companies should understand their limitations. Since the goal of proper security is not reachable, not to mention the privacy issues involved, I think we need to reach a median that provides a reasonable level of security without being intrusive to the passengers. To me, the changes in security since September 11th have not increased security on American air travel in a significant manner. If the security has not been increased or improved, the billions already spent are wasted and we should stop wasting even more money on future travel.

  3. First, I think you should take Matt’s comment about taking an operations management elective quite seriously. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? You could grow centrally bald and become a PHB, that’s about it.

    In terms of changes in security since 9/11, I would have to strongly disagree with you that they have had no meaningful impact. That *might* be the case with passenger screening. However, if anything, the reinforced cockpit doors now required amount to a reasonable and definite improvement, in my estimation.

    Perhaps you should also create an unprivileged account on your laptop with no access rights to anything that you could sign into the next time the screeners want access. And beware of flying with 128-bit encryption through France.

Comments are closed.