geek points, politics

Travel Day

One factismal [1] that everyone remembers about Thanksgiving is that the holiday weekend includes the busiest travel day of the year. Though there is some debate on whether the honor for busiest day actually belongs to the day before or Thanksgiving day itself, it is clear that there are lots of folks out and about.
And many of those folks fly, perhaps for the first and only time that year [2]. And that means that they get their first reminder of the joy that is the TSA, just when they are the most stressed. The travelers don’t realize that the rules have changed [3] and so they gang up in the wrong lines with the wrong documentation [4] and the wrong clothes [5], tying the lines up and turning an unpleasant situation into a Kafkaesque version of the Keystone Cops. But, heinous as the antics of the infrequent flyers are, they are just the icing on the cake. The true problem lies with the TSA itself.

I won’t delve into the problems with the security theater that the TSA has imposed on us [6], as they are documented extensively elsewhere. Nor will I deliver yet another rant on those who willingly give up their civil liberties in return for non-existent security, as plenty of others have done so. Instead, I’d like to do a little math and see just how much the TSA is costing us. And I’ll measure that cost not in money, but in lives.

You see, the TSA has argues that what they do is necessary to prevent more deaths like those that happened on 9/11. That is a fair argument, but it needs to be looked at objectively, instead of by crying “Will someone please think of the children?” [7] So let’s do that, by comparing the amount of life stolen by the terrorists with that taken every year by the TSA [8].
Let’s start with the terrorists. They killed 2,996 people on 9/11. If we assume that the average age of the victim was 30 and that they would have lived to be 78.5 years old on average [9], then the terrorists stole 145,306 years of life by killing those people.

And now for the TSA. Let’s assume that the new security procedures add no more than ten minutes per passenger (even though most airports say that it is closer to 45 minutes). How many years of life has the TSA stolen? Well, there are 800,000,000 people who fly every year. Multiplying that by twenty minutes [10] gives us 30,421 years of life sucked away by TSA security measures every year. So, in the eleven years since the TSA was established, they have effectively killed twice as many people as the terrorists did. That number goes up to ten times as many people if we use the less conservative estimate of 45 minutes added by security measures. And please note that this estimate only covers the flying public; it does not include the lifetimes wasted by police and TSA personnel in pursuit of the impossible!

Looking at the results objectively, the TSA has been a resounding failure. Not only have they not made us any safer, they have actually done more damage to the US in terms of lifetimes wasted than the terrorists ever did. In addition, they have wasted literally billions of dollars on machines that don’t work and millions of man-hours on procedures that don’t stop terrorists. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll stop the madness and go back to security measures that make sense.

John [11]

[1] That’s a portmanteau for “little fact”, constructed with the same care and logic that gave us “planetismal”.
[2] “Only” only counts if we count the return trip as part of the flight experience. But you knew that, didn’t you?
[3] Again. The one constant with the TSA is that they never have the same set of rules two years running. Though the TSA claims that this is to make certain that the terrorists cannot use predictable patterns to attack us, many suspect that the rule changes are done more for the amusement of TSA officials (“Hey, Vern [a] – what if we make little old ladies throw away their knitting needles but keep their scissors? Won’t that be funny?”) than for any practical effect.
[4] Honestly, people – how hard is it to come to the airport with a driver’s license or passport? Do you really, truly think that an employee badge from BigCo is just as good?
[5] Don’t wear thigh-high boots that take thirty minutes to take off. Don’t wear seven layers of t-shirts (you are only allowed one). Don’t expect to walk through the scanner with ten pounds of piercings in various private parts of your body. Don’t wear that belt buckle that doubles as a knife. Do THINK. Please – the folks that fly for business are begging you!
[6] E.g., scanners that do no better than random at catching “bad guys“, easily circumvented “security” measures, ever-changing rules that leave even their employees confused. It’s enough to !
[7] Yellow geek points for the reference!
[8] I could go with the monetary value,
as others have done. But that always gets very controversial (how do you value a life?) and doesn’t provide a truly objective measure.
[9] The first is a conservative WAG. The second is based on US life expectancy. A more sophisticated analysis would look at the age, gender, ethnicity, and employment of each victim, and wouldn’t vary from the result I get by more than 10%.
[10] Ten minutes going and ten minutes coming back.
[11] Please note that I have nothing against the TSA agents themselves. In general, I have found them to be open and friendly while doing the required pat-down (since I refuse to go through the “porno booth”); only one has attempted to stop me from “flying the American Eagle” [b] during the pat down – and he backed down as soon as he knew I wouldn’t.
[a] Camp-bound geek points for the reference!
[b] Vietnamese geek points for the reference!


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