Episode 80 – Chris Elliott on Security

Mesa Airlines

Travel writer Christopher Elliott joins the airplane geeks to talk aviation and airline security. Chris is one of the two blogger/journalists served with a subpoena by the Department of Homeland Security after posting the government directive for airline security procedures after the attempted Christmas 2009 terrorist bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253. Chris is the reader advocate for National Geographic Traveler magazine, he writes the syndicated Travel Troubleshooter column, produces a weekly commentary and podcast on MSNBC.com, writes the Navigator column in Sunday’s Washington Post, and authors the Elliott.org travel blog.

David Vanderhoof has another This Week in Aviation, Steve Visscher and Grant McHerron from the Plane Crazy Down Under podcast have their Australia Desk report, and Court returns with another Whiskey Tango Foxtrot segment.

Follow the @AirplaneGeeks on Twitter, send us email at thegeeks@airplanegeeks.com, or leave a message on our listener line: (361) GEEKS01.

This episode’s opening and closing music is provided by Brother Love from the Album Of The Year CD. Visit his site at http://www.brotherloverocks.com/.

7 thoughts on “Episode 80 – Chris Elliott on Security

  1. Max Flight

    [Jaime sent this. Radials – cool!]

    Thought you might enjoy the radial ceiling fan. For more radial engine gadgets see:


    The Whirlwind

    The “Whirlwind” Ceiling Fan For several years we were asked by customers why we had not yet built a radial engine ceiling fan. In response to these requests, we are pleased to announce the latest addition to our line of Golden Age creations: The “Whirlwind” ceiling fan. By again reducing weight as much as possible we have constructed a ceiling fan weighing 120 lbs that still shows the attention to cosmetic minute detail as our other pieces. The ceiling fan can be created from the Continental, Lycoming, or Jacobs radial aircraft engines.

    (135 lbs) $5,200.00

    Wonder how much you have to reinforce the ceiling?

  2. Max Flight

    [Kim send in lots of good comments…]

    Good afternoon guys. I’m finally getting on schedule with your podcast and listening while winging south in a beautiful 757, using the onboard Wi-fi. (No, I’m not a spendthrift …. there are promotional access codes floating around the internet.) My seat is away as possible from the one I used in past years …. window / last row / f/o’s side as I head to MCO for a quick Part 135 instrument proficiency check in the Citation sim.

    On the subject of the ever popular security lanes: I find myself in full support of the full body scanner. For an old guy like me with a steel hip, the full body scan is a 2 minute substitute for the much longer wand & pat down routine. It saves me a lot of time, but there are not many around. To address a question Rob raised, there are two floor plans out there: one in which the scanner is in its own lane, with no prior metal detector and one in which the scanner is just beyond the metal detector. In the latter case, they essentially ignore the beep because I’m heading into the scanner, which will resolve the issue to their satisfaction. As for European attitudes toward security, I find it very ironic that European airports do not require the removal of shoes …. since it was at a European airport that the shoe bomber originated. After finishing my pat down in DUB recently, I looked around in vain for a place to sit while re-shoeing. It became clear why there was no such place when I realized, much to my wife’s amusement, that I was the only one who had de-shoed in the first place.

    On Chris Elliott’s comment that the passenger will put up with anything to save a buck, I can only add my fervent “amen”. This was all started, unfortunately, but my erstwhile employer when they accepted stock warrants in exchange for making seats available to then brand new PriceLine.com. (Delta made a couple of million bucks and started the slide toward bankruptcy) The move toward total airline fare transparency was thus launched. As websites proliferated listing service between city pairs in the order of increasing fare, the travel agency business crashed, and the public became able for the first time to view all fares themselves. I had occasion during meetings with airline execs to see definitive proof that a fare increase as small as $5 would significantly affect market share on a route. Its a good thing that the public is willing to accept any level of service without complaint …. because it is their cheap ticket obsession that has resulted in the crashing decline of airline service in the US. They’re getting what they’re willing to pay for.

    Rob, I can’t believe you stooped so low as to correct David on the pronunciation of “aviation” …. but, as long as you did, I’ll join in the fun and inform Dan that the term “N-number” is stated just as it reads. No one, ever, substitutes the phonetic alphabet’s “November” for the “N” in that term to say “November number”. Sorry, Dan …. couldn’t resist.

    Great show, guys.



  3. Max Flight

    Kim: Years ago I told people looking for “the next big thing” to consider businesses that thrive under perfect market knowledge, and avoid those that live off the old model of imperfect market knowledge. The Internet facilitates the sharing of market information, and that rate of change is accelerating. The airlines are a great example of what happens when the consumer knows all the prices.

    Interestingly enough, all the fees that the airlines are currently enjoying serve to move the marketplace back away from perfect knowledge. Customers don’t exactly know in advance what the total price is. (OK, they could know if they work at it, but the effort involved serves as a deterrent.)

    But I maintain this is only temporary because the technology will return us to perfect knowledge. Then it won’t matter if the total price includes fees or not.


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  5. sekhar

    This was an interesting episode, however, I have to take exception to the constant repetition of the “passengers will endure any security related abuse for cheap tickets”.
    I don’t see any connection between how the TSA treats people and how much the airlines charge for the tickets. The TSA is a governmental organization and the airlines are not.
    A older and wiser friend once told me one day after a particularly bad episode with TSA bullies that “this is what happens when you put high school dropouts in security and give them power that they never had in their lives”. I have seen this happen again and again every time I travel through a US airport.
    Once at a very tiny airport in Iowa. I gave my passport to the screener and he refused to accept passport as ID because the expiry date was incorrect.
    As in the date was in the form of DD-MM-YY instead of the standard MM-DD-YY format used in the US. After I explained this to him and his supervisor they demanded 2 more forms of ID (which obviously also had the date in the same format) this took about 10 to 15 mins to resolve. I had to show them the US visa with my picture on it with a date in the US format to resolve the issue and my old expired US drivers license which I had just in case.
    The last time I visited the US with my wife and 18 month old, we had such bad experiences in the airports that we have not come back to visit for 3 years now. In fact I try to not travel to the US on business and meet customers/suppliers during trade shows in europe/asia so that I can avoid traveling to the US.

    The security people are rude and disrespectful to passengers and there is no excuse for that. It does not cost money to smile (be respectful) and do a good job. In fact money has nothing to do with it at all.
    However, I must also mention the times I have had a good experience at the security too, there are people (specially older screeners) who are much better and do a good job. But these are in the minority.
    We go through the same levels of security in Asia and the EU and they never ever make anyone feel bad for being there.

    I am sure that if security gets any worse the US airlines will be in a boat load of doo doo as passengers will refuse to travel unless it is absolutely necessary.


  6. maxflight Post author

    Sekar: Thank you for your comment. You are right that airline ticket pricing is unrelated to the quality of service provided by the TSA, but I think the point was that poor security practice does not drive ticket purchase decisions – ticket price does.

    However, I think you make it clear that bad experiences with the TSA can, in fact, influence people’s decisions to travel!

    The way I see it, the security and customs experience at the airport is the first impression that a foreign traveler has when visiting another country for the first time. It’s not too difficult to train employees to recognize that and try to act in a polite manner.

    But I’d temper that with a few things:

    First: The TSA has a job to do, and that’s their first priority. An effective screening won’t always be a pleasant experience.

    Second: Standards of “politeness” vary by culture, as you’ve no doubt seen in your travels. I certainly have. And the U.S. is so large that you can consider it to contain different cultures inside it’s borders. So we need to recognize that when we travel.

    The date mix-up happens more often than people might think. I’ve seen two international companies disagree over a contract until they realized that they were both reading the same date differently. A lot of people in the U.S. have never seen DD-MM-YY. But yes, you would think someone trained to examine passports would understand the format.

    Thanks again for your feedback, Sekhar!


  7. sekhar

    Thanks Max.
    Good to hear your views on the subject. I have been listening to the podcast for a few months and enjoy it. You, Rob, David, Dan and the PCDU guys have a great show.

    I am a aviation enthusiast (more towards the military side) and follow aviation news very closely. I would have gotten my PPL in 2001 but for 9/11. I had taken my check flight the week prior to 9/11 and was supposed to start the following week and then everything was grounded for a very long time. I used to live in Austin,TX for many years and until I finally left the US.

    You are right about the differences in culture, in Asia everyone has to have a pat down even after the metal detector but it is not an unpleasant experience. Nobody barks orders at people who are waiting for checks and certainly they do not separate babies from their mothers traveling by themselves.

    I travel often all over the world and have never found security personnel more onerous than then TSA. Unfortunately the TSA has done more harm to the reputation of the US in travelers eyes than anything else. I love many things in the US but it is so difficult to travel that I have had to curtail my visits.

    I recently came across a video by a blogger (dont know if you saw it) and his run in with the TSA guys. The guy does provoke the TSA but the response was not very nice. If you want I can send you the link
    You are correct about politeness being different by cultures but certain basic things do remain the same.

    Passport: You are right and that is what I was trying to say about competence of the people.

    Thanks for the response and keep up the good work.

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