In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg has an excellent article from 2008 about how surprisingly easy it is to circumvent airport security. Or as he puts it “Airport security in America is a sham — “security theater” designed to make travelers feel better.”
Just to see if it could be done, he carried on various dangerous items, including pocketknives, pocket tools, lengths of rope, cigarette lighters, and (of course) box cutters. To show how easy it is to carry liquids onto a flight, he used a “beer belly” — a bladder on a sling with a drinking tube sold to enable people sneak alcohol into football games — to smuggle two cans’ worth of Bud Light onto a flight. And just for fun, he also carried on a three-by-four-foot Hezbollah flag (featuring an upraised fist holding an AK-47), matches from hotels in Beirut and Peshawar, an “Osama Bin Laden, Hero of Islam” T-shirt, and even an inflatable Yasir Arafat doll. Goldberg discusses how easy it is to print fake boarding passes and use them to fly, even if you are on the TSA no-fly list. He also deliberately tried to act suspicious, in order to test the TSA’s program that is supposed to spot terrorists from their behavior.
The article reminded me of my own experiences with airport security. Like the time I thought I had lost my pocket knife, but it turns out that it was in an outside pocket of my carry-on bag and it (unknown to me) accompanied me through airport security on several domestic and international flights before anyone noticed it. But my favorite time was when I walked off a flight from Havana Cuba to Miami (yes, I was in Cuba legally) and because there was less than an hour before my next flight, the airline had me carry on my normally checked bag, which contained, in addition to my pocket knife, some tools, various liquids, and (of course) a bunch of illegal cigars. I was even subjected to a hand search of my bag at the gate, and they didn’t notice a thing. Remember that I had just left a country that is on the “Axis of Evil” list.
Bottom line? post 9/11 airport security is a stunning waste of time and (lots of) money. The TSA has never stopped an actual terrorist from boarding a flight. The airport security measures that make flying such a pain are pretty much there just for show.