Sneaking into Airports

The stories keep getting better. Here’s someone who climbs a fence at the Raleigh-Durham Airport, boards a Delta plane, and hangs out for a bunch of hours.

Best line of the article:

“It blows my mind that you can’t get 3.5 ounces of toothpaste on a plane,” he said, “yet somebody can sneak on a plane and take a nap.”

Exactly. We’re spending millions enhancing passenger screening—new backscatter X-ray machines, confiscating liquids—and we ignore the other, less secure, paths onto airplanes. It’s idiotic, that’s what it is.

Posted on December 20, 2006 at 1:17 PM34 Comments


Toothpaste Seizure Authority December 20, 2006 1:48 PM

It’s all about the money.

You can make billions selling security theatre.

The margins on actually providing meaningful security are, OTOH, much lower.

Lou the troll December 20, 2006 1:51 PM

What gets me is “passengers were each given a $7 food voucher”… what’s that buy at airport prices, a bottle of water?

Brian S December 20, 2006 2:03 PM

From this story one can also see the value of building a many hundred mile long fence along a border to provide security. After all, it works so well at airports…

/sarcasm off

jkohen December 20, 2006 2:10 PM

At least they got a voucher. I was stuck in Milan, Italy on my way to London the very day London Heathrow was closed and the “liquids can hurt us” circus began. I was flying with Alitalia, who refused to give us any food vouchers, and said that accomodation would be completely out of the question, should we had to stay for the night. Only some early birds such as myself got the option of flying somewhere else so that they could arrive at Manchester or get to England by land, until the executives of the airline caught up and started refusing that as well. Finally we were able to get back on our original flight, about 9 hours laters.

Some of those stranded at the airport had no cheap means to procure food at the airport, as those travelling from Latin America to England don’t usually carry Euros, and many young people didn’t have credit cards or any other form of plastic currency. I decided that day not to fly with Alitalia ever again, their contingency plan was anything but flawless and they didn’t care what could happen to us.

jkohen December 20, 2006 2:15 PM

Not to mention that the luggage for a significant number of passengers, yours truly included, was declared lost by the company. They said we’d have to make the claim in London, if we managed to get there. So we weren’t only stranded in an airport, we didn’t even have our personal belongings.

Fortunately all missing bags magically turned up some hours later at the luggage pick up area. The company never announced that they had found them – I was lucky to have met somebody stubborn enough to go check again “just in case,” and who informed me of the happy finding.

Fred P December 20, 2006 2:15 PM

@Lou the troll-
“what’s that buy at airport prices, a bottle of water?”

It buys 3.0 ounces of toothpaste 🙂

Tamas December 20, 2006 2:24 PM

@jkohen: Alitalia is by far the worst airline on the Northern hemisphere (Air France is a strong contender though). I refuse to by any ticker with a transfer in Milan, but I colleagues who are not so wary tell me that they were delayed, had their luggage lost, etc. Stay away from the company.

Iguacu December 20, 2006 2:35 PM

I was told by a TSA agent that it didn’t matter how much toothpaste was in the container, just that the container had to be 3 ounces. So my half-full 6 oz toothpaste container didn’t make the cut!

Alan December 20, 2006 2:42 PM

In order to solve this problem, the TSA will be confining airports to small plots of land large enough to hold the building and a couple of planes. A spokesman for the TSA said that “those long strips of concrete just invite terrorist acts and intrusion by people who want to do us harm.” The extra land around the airports has been sold to Brown and Root for immediate condo development.

Israel Torres December 20, 2006 3:00 PM

The end game is that there will never be enough x to stop anyone that really wants x.

What is being sold/bought is thinking that it will all be OK… unless x really wants x.

Israel Torres

Robert Frost December 20, 2006 3:19 PM

So now they are going to start buying billions of dollars worth of some kind of “technology” fences and jack up fares again. Spend a tiny fraction of that on people with guns — wait/scratch that/you can’t have people with guns in America — dogs with loud barks.

george December 20, 2006 3:50 PM

If TSA installs motion sensors on perimeter fences of all airports imagine the number of squirrels and rabbits along with an occasional moose or deer that will be prevented from breaching security.

urbanek December 20, 2006 4:05 PM

About 6 months before 9/11/2001, the big topic concerning air travel was the rampant thievery that was perpetrated by baggage handlers. I equipped all my luggage with little locks. Of course, the attack of 9/11 magically transformed all of these thieves into protectors of freedom, and my locks were forcibly removed. Now, no one talks about stuff being stolen from luggage.

It reminds me so much of the book 1984. Who is the enemy Ociania today? It is double-plus-ungood to remember who the enemy was last week.

Janantha December 20, 2006 4:08 PM

I guess that the airport haven’t carried out a proper risk assesment in the complex. If they have done that I’m sure they would have deviced a secondary security measure for its perimeter, as fence been the primary. My guess is fences aren’t secure these days and its shouldn’t be the primary measure. This again proves that nothing is 100% secure and when the right moment comes with all the conditions are to bad guys favour.

Davi Ottenheimer December 20, 2006 4:09 PM

“The margins on actually providing meaningful security are, OTOH, much lower.”

Maybe one of the proponents of the Mexico-USA fence will turn their sights onto this risk next.

I hear they are generating some wildly profitable products that depend on serious fear mongering to get funded. Perhaps we’ll soon see flyers (pun not intended) with proposals to “stop terrorists from climbing airport fences”

Fred F. December 20, 2006 4:15 PM

I actually flew last week to Charleston from MIA and they had examples of what was acceptable and what wasn’t. The interesting thing is that you can have as many 3oz containers as you can fit in one ziplok. So if you want to carry 9 oz of toothpaste that is ok as long as you brake it into three containers that are labeled as 3 oz. So you may actually be able to get more on board if the container has more than 3oz per volume but are labeled as being 3 oz. I would figure that as long as it is not ‘smelled’ by the puffing machine you can get a big and effective shaped charge looking like a 3oz perfume bottle through with little problem. That is guaranteed to pierce the plane’s pressurized cabin. You can probably put a bunch of those too although they may catch them in the X-Ray machine if they are trained to see the tale tail conical shape.

Davi Ottenheimer December 20, 2006 4:41 PM

“So if you want to carry 9 oz of toothpaste that is ok as long as you brake it into three containers that are labeled as 3 oz.”

Hasn’t someone invented a toothpaste belt yet? I bet it could hold a family size tube of the stuff. You know, like a money belt but made for something far more valuable and difficult to travel with “safely”.

Davi Ottenheimer December 20, 2006 4:48 PM

Aha. I found the cost estimates for preventing a guy on drugs from accidentally climbing a fence and sitting down peacefully on a plane:

“A 2,000 mile state-of-the-art border fence has been estimated to cost between four and eight billion dollars. Costs for a wall that would run the entire length of the border might be as low as $851 million for a standard 10-foot prison chain link fence topped by razor wire. For another $362 million, the fence could be electrified. A larger 12-foot tall, two-foot-thick concrete wall painted on both sides would run about $2 billion. Initially it was estimated that the San Diego fence would cost $14 million — about $1 million a mile. The first 11 miles of the fence eventually cost $42 million — $3.8 million per mile, and the last 3.5 miles may cost even more since they cover more difficult terrain. An additional $35 million to complete the final 3.5 miles was approved in 2005 by the Department of Homeland Security — $10 million per mile.”

Airport terrain is far simpler, but still. Imagine what you could do with $10 million for real security measures. And for something completely freakonomical, what if you spent that $10 million on causal issues rather than symptoms? Was that guy just kicked out of a treatment center due to lack of funds?

Roy December 20, 2006 5:02 PM

Charging full price for something, then substituting fakery, is the crime of counterfeiting. This business is beyond security theater: it is white collar crime. Correction calls for stiff fines and long jail terms.

Anonymous December 20, 2006 7:42 PM

Ich hatte eigentlich nicht vor, den gesamten Prozess meiner Bewerbung zur Diplomarbeit zu dokumentieren. Aber dieser Fall hat es wirklich mehr als verdient. Bei dem Unternehmen handelt es sich um ein in Süddeutschland angesiedeltes kleines Unternehmen mit starkem Open Source Fokus. Man könnte denken, ich würde ziemlich passgenau in das Profil passen. Doch,

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aikimark December 20, 2006 8:59 PM

The guy just wanted a decent place to nap. You know how uncomfortable those terminal seats are.

asdfjkl December 20, 2006 10:38 PM

I think that Gregory S. Wester should get 25 to 30 years in a federal pentitentiary for this terrible and heinous crime.

There should be ZERO tolerance for people committing any kind of trespass at airports these days.

Hell, I wouldn’t shed a tear if they just gave the guy the death penalty.

Late December 21, 2006 1:58 AM

Toothpaste, the new public enemy #1. Securing fences? That’s old-school security… Bruce, you should start a “security theater awareness” campaign or something. Or maybe a flyer competition…

bob December 21, 2006 7:06 AM

I’ve been saying for years the primary attack vector on an airliner is not ticketed passengers. There are probably 10 people with access to an airliner on the ground for every seat on the plane. And their background has only been vouched for by a company that makes 10x as much profit if it hires illegal immigrants to empty the johns.

alfora December 21, 2006 9:33 AM

@Fred F.: Yes, that’s correct. The regulations in the EU also do not specify this.

The “fun” thing about this is, that nobody (!) can tell you if that is really allowed or not. The EU regulation Nr. 1546/2006 where all this is specified is not public.

Note too, that you can also print out boarding passes for your friends and thus let them pass the security checkpoints with their load of toothpaste. They cannot board the plane, of course, but they can give you their toothpaste after the checkpoint.

Anonymous December 21, 2006 9:35 AM

I was in Orange County John Wayne Airport this summer and right before we took off, the pilot made an announcement that a security breach happened. They evacuated the airport, locked the doors, then evacuated all planes into the terminal waiting area and rescreened every passenger on every plane that was already boarded for hours. Apparently someone simply just ran through the security checkpoint in the airport, and they couldn’t find who did it. They never did find out who the person was, and never found out why the person just ran through security, with their bag, and boarding pass still in hand. If you have ever been to this airport, the security area is so small and narrow your shoulders touch the walls as you are standing in line. How do you lose someone in such a small space if you are paying attention? The system needs to be replaced. And any avid readers of this forum know exactly how to do it. The problem is getting the people who influence the people who make policy to read forums like this that actually make sense.

Valdis Kletnieks December 21, 2006 10:17 AM

“The problem is getting the people who influence the people who make policy to read forums like this that actually make sense.”

Umm. No. I guarantee that the people making these policies understand completely that they’re merely security theatre. The real problem is that even understanding that, they intentionally choose security theatre for totally political reasons – it’s more important to be seen doing something, even if stupid, than actually do the security right (which usually tends to be quite invisible, because you don’t want the trained attacker to be able to spot it either).

Joe Sixpack’s take on it: “Wow, they must be doing their job well, they’re even cracking down on toothpaste”.

THERE is your REAL problem.

bobechs December 21, 2006 11:52 AM

Point well made Valdis.

I have often wondered if, behind the scenes of the security theater we are entertained with, there is real security, managed by grown-ups which is, as you say, quite invisible.

Events like this, where penetration of the security envelope is accomplished by climbing over the fence and walking on to an aircraft, strongly suggests that no, the clown-show in the terminal is all there is.


Michael December 21, 2006 3:22 PM

“It’s idiotic, that’s what it is.”

Hey Bruce… Don’t sugar coat it! Tell us what you really think. 😉

Andrew December 21, 2006 6:18 PM

The fence looks like a security measure which is assumed to be effective because nobody has bothered to attack it.

Many long-standing security measures are likely to fall into this category – see my blog (click my name below) for some conclusions.

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