Christopher Hitchens, reliably thoughtful and provocative, had this reaction to the new airline requirements — reported in the New York Times after last week’s thwarted bombing — which say that “passengers on international flights coming to the United States will apparently have to remain in their seats for the last hour of a flight without any personal items on their laps.”
Yes, that ought to do it. It’s also incredibly, nay, almost diabolically clever of our guardians to let it be known what the precise time limit will be. Oh, and by the way, any passenger courageous or resourceful enough to stand up and fight back will also have broken the brave new law.
For some years after 9/11, passengers were forbidden to get up and use the lavatory on the Washington-New York shuttle. Zero tolerance! I suppose it must eventually have occurred to somebody that this ban would not deter a person who was willing to die, so the rule was scrapped. But now the principle has been revisited for international flights. For many years after the explosion of the TWA plane over Long Island (a disaster that was later found to have nothing at all to do with international religious nihilism), you could not board an aircraft without being asked whether you had packed your own bags and had them under your control at all times. These two questions are the very ones to which a would-be hijacker or bomber would honestly and logically have to answer “yes.” But answering “yes” to both was a condition of being allowed on the plane!
Too many of our airline safety procedures have the same Achilles heel as our gun control procedures — which is to say, they only deter the law-abiding. Just as it’s folly to think any criminal bothers to obtain his weapons through legal channels, it’s likewise foolish to believe any suicide bomber, after waking up from a long nap on an overseas flight only to find himself in the stay-seated hour, would say to himself: “Damn! Missed my chance.”