In my quest for some clarity (since sanity turned out to be hopeless, I focused at least on clarity) regarding the latest air-travel restrictions, I’ve come across dozens of media articles and editorials, not to mention interviews and blogs, on the topic. One security “expert” mentioned that it was all a balancing-act between security and passenger “hassle factor”, i.e. the point at which travelers will react to all the hassles by either not traveling at all, or choosing alternative forms of transportation. He reinforced that all the major airlines are in very fragile shape and if passengers begin to ditch air travel in significant numbers, it could be catastrophic for the industry.

A friend who lived and worked as a senior executive in the US for 10 years described America as a “Darwinian” society that largely understands only one “currency”, that of money (not that Canada and other Western nations are too far off that mark, BTW). I’d add fear to that notion of currency as something you are prepared to exchange for something else of value. Right now the US is in knee-jerk reaction because of fear, but as that fear begins to impact business and money, hopefully some measure of sanity will be restored. In the meantime of course, there is always money to be made by some and we can already see that shift of resources happening from activities that add customer value, to activities that add little-to-no value, e.g. airport scanners. “No problem” you might say, “it’s just a shift of money away from airlines to other industries like security, just like moving away from oil creates new opportunities in alternative energy”. Like I said, Darwinian. But it doesn’t quite work that way, because travel adds value by making it possible for people to conduct business or spend tourism dollars; Scanners do not create any value other than (possibly) mitigating some fear. One might argue peripherally that by mitigating fear, scanners do make it more likely that people will travel. That’s pretty circuitous as arguments go, sort of like the story of the little boy who sees his grandfather beating a broom on the front stoop and when asked “why” by the boy, Grandpa replies, “I’m keeping the tigers away”. “But there are no tigers in America” says the boy. “See what a good job I’m doing?” replies Grandpa.

I’ve read that a ban on cellphones on airplanes is the next step. That one will be interesting. Like how do you make a day-trip to New York from Canada? Check in the phone by itself? And as people check in more and more items of value, it will be interesting to see if the theft rate and insurance claims increase. “One door closes, another opens”, my mother used to say.