Why Not Just Ban Luggage Altogether?


How big a boob is Ted Stevens? So big that the Alaska Republican has me defending the Transportation Security Administration. Stevens and several other senators are in a tizzy about TSA's plan to let passengers carry small tools and scissors (up to four inches long) onto airplanes. Here is the New York Times account of Monday's hearing on the subject before the Senate Commerce Committee, which Stevens chairs:

Edmund Hawley, the assistant secretary of homeland security who is in charge of the security agency, testified before the Commerce Committee that the ban on scissors was sensible when flights resumed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But Mr. Hawley said other measures that had since been put in place, including fortified cockpits and an increased use of air marshals, reduced the chance of terrorists storming a cockpit, as they did on four planes that day.

Mr. Hawley said that checkpoint screeners were opening one bag in four to look for scissors and small tools spotted on X-rays, and that this was a distraction from identifying greater threats.

"It's not about scissors, it's about bombs," Mr. Hawley testified. "Sorting through thousands of bags a day at two or three minutes apiece to sort out small scissors and tools does not help security. It hurts it."

Weighing the risk of small scissors and tools against that of bombs, he said, "If you do the analysis, it is not even close."

But the committee chairman, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, said he found that logic "difficult to follow." Mr. Stevens proposed instead that the security agency reduce the number of bags that passengers may carry on board to one from two, giving the screeners fewer items to handle.

So because Ted Stevens is not smart enough to follow the TSA's reasoning about security priorities, millions of travelers should be inconvenienced by having to check bags they now carry on? Stevens' blithe proposal would dramatically change travel patterns, effectively eliminating the option of flying without checking bags for any traveler who has a small rolling suitcase with clothes and a purse, briefcase, backpack, or computer bag. I'm guessing that when Stevens flies someone else takes care of his bags.