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A Pilot's Perspective on 9/11 and Security
From an article in by pilot P. Smith:

It wasn't until I joined a large crowd of passengers, some of whom had their hands covering their mouths, in one of the concourse restaurants in Charleston that I learned what was going on. Dan Rather says: "The World Trade Center has collapsed."

Had the airplanes crashed, blown up, and reduced the upper floors of those buildings to burned-out hulks, the whole event would nonetheless have clung to the realm of believability. But it was the groaning implosion, the buildings dropping, and the white clouds of wreckage funneling like a pyroclastic tornado through the canyonlike streets of lower Manhattan that catapulted the event from a disaster to an event of pure, historical infamy. The sight of those ugly, magnificent towers collapsing onto themselves is the most sublimely terrifying thing I have ever seen in my life.

And in that very moment, I knew that something about the business of flying planes had changed for good. Pilots, like firemen, policemen, FBI agents, and everyone else whose livelihood has been touched, even tangentially, by the events of that day, were destined to take things a bit more to heart.

So people ask me now, "What is different?" Maybe I'm more philosophical than many of my peers, but I haven't measured a change by any quantifiable means: security, cockpit doors, baggage screening, and the like. It's something intangible, something that can't be armored, upgraded, or fenced in by razor wire. It's a state of mind, a state of unease and disappointment and, to some extent, anger. Anger to have had our industry taken advantage of so ruthlessly, our beautiful planes so brazenly stolen, our co-workers fooled and killed, thousands more thrown out of work.

The ineffable aside, however, what drives it home for pilots are the same pains and inconveniences now faced by passengers everywhere: long lines, chaos at the metal detectors, angst and fear in the terminals. Flying was enough of a hassle before September.

Today, at the same security checkpoint through which I passed the morning of 9/11, you'll find a showcase of excess. The guards now wear paramilitary style uniforms, complete with hideous gold shoulder braids, combat boots and berets. Across their backs it says SECURITY in bold yellow lettering. But the too-sharp creases in the pantlegs, the cheap fabrics and the lipstick, all belie the phoniness and desperation of the scene. These aren't even the trappings of a Third World nation -- something you'd see at an airport in Quito or Entebbe. This is a carnival imitation of one.

"Take your shoes off, please." Thank you, Richard Reid, who marched his explosive feet past the guards at normally button-down Charles de Gaulle. What is next? Body cavity searches? At the risk of sounding flip, I can't help thinking of the movie "Brazil," Terry Gilliam's 1985 film about a totalitarian state under a constant barrage of terrorist bombings, brought to the brink of both collapse and hilarity by its own foolish, hyperextended authority.

The paramilitary troopers are cracking jokes; bags are toppling from the X-ray belt, a National Guardsman is flirting with a group of teenage girls. This is supposed to look like the ordered efficiency you'd encounter at Heathrow, Frankfurt or Amsterdam. Instead it feels like a set from Saturday Night Live. The uniforms of "Worldwide Security" are straight from an old Monty Python wardrobe. I feel ashamed, embarrassed that it has come to this. Is this the new world of flying?

It would be hyperbole of the worst order to speak of lost innocence or the world being changed forever. But yes, flying is different now. As with the fallout from any trauma, we hope the more uncomfortable -- and unnecessary -- aspects of this difference are reckoned with in time.

It will take a while, I suppose, for things to settle and reach whatever state of permanence they are destined for. In the meantime, pilots try hard to maintain standards of professionalism and safety in an environment running a gamut from justified apprehension to outright silliness. Like the rest of you, we were cast into a fray we never wanted a part of.

Entire Article at
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