Airport security

Over in Washington, D.C., the usual bellowing blowhard brigade are bickering over what set of orders to give to airlines and airports about how best to run their own businesses. Here’s a little item that I noticed in the midst of it, which it may be interesting to consider in light of what I said the other day about cops and prison guards coming in many shapes and sizes.

I want the American people to understand this, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at a news conference after the vote. The next time they’re stranded on an airplane and they’re wondering why they can’t get off, or why they don’t have food or water after four hours sitting there, it’s frankly because of Republican obstructionism.

No, it’s not.

Boxer sponsored a provision in the bill that would have required airlines to provide food, drinking water, cabin ventilation, toilet facilities and access to medical treatment for passengers on planes stuck on the ground for hours.

James Hohmann, Los Angeles Times (2008-05-07): Aviation safety bill stalls in the Senate

Hey, I’ve got an idea.

Rather than trying to pass a new law requiring airlines to provide better prison conditions for passengers forced to stay on a plane while it’s grounded for hours, why not let people get off the damn plane while they wait?

If I’m in a restaurant for hours without getting any service, I can get up and leave, and get my dinner somewhere else. If I’m waiting for my car to be repaired and it’s taking too long, and the coffee is bad and the television is blaring Judge Judy (as it always is), I can get up and walk down the street or hop on a bus to go somewhere until my car is ready. If I’m on a bus and the bus breaks down and another bus won’t arrive for an hour, I can get out and walk or call a taxi. I don’t have to worry about angry fellow customers, or bad ventilation, or no food and water, or my medical conditions, or overflowing latrines, because, in any place of business except for those that operate under a special license from the government and its National Security apparatus, I am free to just turn around and walk away, if, when, and for as long as I’m tired of being there, without being locked in, without being threatened, without being tasered, and without being arrested.

But when a federally-licensed flight crew seals the doors of an airplane, even if you are sitting on the ground for hours, you are legally their captives and it is (as they will very quickly tell you as soon as they want to make you sit down and shut up) a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison to interfere with the performance of their duties, which air marshals, the FBI, federal prosecutors and federal courts will happily interpret as meaning absolutely any disobedience to the the arbitrary orders of your smiling, uniformed captors.

If you don’t want people to face unbearable conditions on grounded airplanes, you don’t need to pass more laws and regulations to make their captivity less obnoxious. You just need to repeal an existing law and leave people free to go somewhere else when they don’t want to stay on the plane anymore. If you make flight crews and airport officials treat a grounded airplane as a prison, you shouldn’t act all surprised when passengers end up getting treated like prisoners. The obvious solution is to open the gates and break the chains.

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