There are really only two things that have improved air travel security since 9/11.
- Reinforced cockpit doors. Before 9/11 the default was to peacefully resolve a hijacking. Now the rule is not to let hijackers in, and the reinforced doors keep them out.
- Passengers who won’t remain docile when things go wrong. Instead of complying with terrorist demands, passengers will fight back.
Truth is there aren’t that many people trying to attack us, especially in suicide missions. Occasionally groups need to execute on their threats to demonstrate effectiveness to their donors. People join to feel a part of something, create meaning, but that doesn’t mean they actually want to give up their lives. And to the extent that we do make air travel safer, that would simply shift risk onto other areas of life.
Nonetheless, part of keeping potential threats out of the cockpit is that when the cockpit door opens – to serve meals or drinks to the crew, or for the captain or co-pilot to use the lavatory – a flight attendant will place a serving cart in the aisle to block the galley.
That makes sense. But I think it also creates an obligation on the crew to limit the inconvenience caused for passengers.
Last night I flew Washington National to Dallas and when it was time for one of the crew up front to use the lavatory, normal procedure was followed to block the aisle. Only our pilot didn’t take care of business. He spent 20 minutes flirting in the galley.
It wasn’t all that long after meal service. Small children sitting in the cabin needed to go to the bathroom. So did the woman across the aisle from me. You could see them squirming in their seats.
There was a long line for the lavatory at the back of the plane, and it would have been tough to get there anyway because of the flight attendants with serving cart in the aisle in economy.
So everyone waited. And waited. And waited. While no one could go.
In fairness, it did look like he was making progress: the flight attendant was laughing throughout, twirling her hair, every few minutes touching his arm… So, tradeoffs.
He finally used the lavatory. Came out. Chatted some more. There was a collective sigh of relief as soon as he went back into the cockpit. Really?!