Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Today on NPR I heard a comment that the skies will never be safe 100% of the time. The comment didn't surprise me; I'm a realist. I'm also a mom, and I learned long ago that if someone - whether he's 3 or 23 - wants to circumvent a system, he will do so provided he has a strong desire, a decent plan, and a bit of good fortune. It doesn't necessarily mean he's smarter than the authorities he's trying to beat (at least that's what I've reminded myself whenever my kids have pulled the wool over my eyes) but it does mean that shit does happen. That's life.
I've also heard a lot of banter since the botched terrorist plot on 12/25 about whether our security systems are failing us. They probably are. But that doesn't mean that I won't fly ever again, because besides being a realist I'm an idealist, someone who still believes in the goodness of mankind. I believe there are more good guys out there than bad ones, and there have been numerous terrorist plots stopped because of good people who stepped in and did what they had to do.
So it seems to me (and others too) that there must be a way to harness, maybe even capitalize on, this goodness in our global attempts to combat terrorism. We still need to keep on beefing up the airport security; we need to keep trying to outsmart the terrorists. But we have some safety measures right in front of us we need to deploy: each other.
Think about all those times you've heard flight attendants ask the people in the exit row for verbal confirmation that they're able and willing to assist the crew in the event of an emergency. Granted, I am also a cynic (while being a realist and an idealist) and I do actually wonder how many people say "yes" because they don't want to give up the extra legroom and the opportunity to sit behind someone who can't recline his seat. I wonder, too, how many people say yes but in an actual emergency would just open the hatch and jump out to save their own skin.
But really, why not take that a step further? Why not ask for verbal confirmation of all passengers if they're able and willing to assist the crew in the event of a terrorist emergency? If you say no, the flight attendant can either re-seat you so that the good guys are evenly distributed in the plane, or they can re-seat you right out the door. Better yet, why not have a special passenger class for the good guys who are willing to fight off terrorists; you've got first class and elite mileage class and anti-terrorist class ahead of the coach passengers. In fact, let the anti-terrorist fighters board first ahead of everyone else. Let them get the aisle seats. Give them oodles of pretzels and plenty of soda and even a free snack pack or two. Hell, give them a discount and lots of free miles. Just make sure they're evenly scattered throughout the plane, including coach - where most of the terrorists seem to fly - and by all means don't give them any free, cheap sparkling wine.
While you're at it, why not include this in the airline marketing plan? We have the government-employed federal marshalls on flights every now and then, but why not offer anti-terrorist training to all passengers? The passenger pays a nice fee, attends some classes on what to watch for and how to take down the bomb-laden lunatic, and then gets a bunch of perks from now until eternity on his or her travel plans.
Sound like capitalist vigilantism? Maybe. But if that's what it takes to make our skies friendly again, then maybe it's the way to go.
Sometimes I don't feel like sitting in the exit row because I'm not sure I want to, or should, be responsible for everyone else. I probably wouldn't sign up for the anti-terrorist classes either for the same reason. The perks wouldn't be enough for me. But I think there are plenty of dudes out there willing to give it a try. And I'd gladly sit in a center seat and be the last one to board if it meant I was giving up my privileges to one of the good guys: someone able and willing to save my life by stopping terror in the skies.