While airports continue to augment security in the wake of September 11th, it has been disconcerting to watch the venerable first class service become so maligned and generally misrepresented. In fact for a brief period it was downright embarrassing to even sit in first class.

Fortunately, things are getting better. On a recent trip they even served food, so it is now possible to eat something when you’re in the midst of the 8 hour trip that use to take 4 hours. The provisions were fairly good with one connecting flight providing real turkey sandwiches and another a chicken dinner saut�ed in a
swanky garlic sauce.

One thing that was still missing, however, and will probably remain missing for quite some time, was a knife. Actually it was not absent entirely, a plastic knife was furnished to provide minimal cutting capability. For those familiar with first class they will immediately recognize something is awry. Generally a first class meal includes real stainless steel flatware wrapped in a cloth napkin. Today you still get the cloth napkin, and both the fork and the spoon are at least 18% chromium, but the perilous knife is made from a paltry plastic.

Is a stainless steel dinner knife truly that dangerous? Could I not inflict the same amount of injury using the fork? What about a spoon? In fact I imagine it might even be possible to subdue victims using the plastic meal tray or suffocate an unsuspecting stewardess using my seat cushion.

These kinds of security precautions are ineffective, it will always be possible for a terrorist to find an implement of terror. The problem is clearly psychological, these kinds of people have already decided to cause harm and are merely waiting for the moment to happen.

The problem is how these kinds of people think, so the solution is to discover what a passenger is thinking before letting them on the plane. Since mind reading is an inexact science, the solution is to ask some probing questions.

Things like “did you pack your own luggage” or “has anyone else carried your bags” are frivolous nonsense, it is too easy to anticipate this kind of question. We need to be asking more probing questions, such as “what is the nature of your trip?”. A terrorist is not going to have a good answer to this kind of question, since they are not planning to really make a trip anyway.

Some people might argue this infringes on our personal freedoms. On the other hand, one might also argue you know more about a hitchhiker than any passenger on a Boeing 747. Why do you think one of the first things you do is talk to a neighbor on each flight? You’re probing those around you to determine if the environment is safe for you. Should the airline not have the same privilege? After all, these are the companies that own the planes. If I had a plane I wouldn’t want to let anyone onboard without first finding out where they’re from and where they’re going.

By all means, let’s keep our skies friendly; but plastic knives are pure silliness. There are mechanisms of weaponry everywhere, even the human body can be used to perform deadly acts. The real solution is to prevent those who intend to commit harm from boarding aircraft.