Air travel myths dispelled

Jesse Brown: Body scanners don't work and phones are safe for takeoff

Maybe Louis CK is right: air travel is a miracle and we should all just shut up about the minor inconveniences that come along with it.

Or perhaps we can appreciate the wonder of aviation while maintaining a healthy skepticism toward authorities determined to keep us in a fog of ignorance and anxiety about it. Will 2013 be the year we finally challenge their baffling and invasive demands? Some recent developments have me hoping:

  • A former TSA agent has been cheerfully tooting little whistles on his old employer. Among the revelations on the Taking Sense Away blog (get it?) are that fellow agents routinely laugh at nude photos of passengers rendered in radiation by backscatter machines, which the blogger calls “useless” and potentially harmful. Another blogger, Jonathan Corbett, posted a Youtube video documenting a pretty credible and face-palmingly simple backscatter hack that allows any metal object to pass through the machine undetected (Spoiler alert: Apparently all you need to do is put the bomb/gun/drugs/Altoids tin in your side pocket).
  • The FAA, meanwhile, is under increased pressure to admit that the ban on cellphones and tablet use during takeoff and landing is based on bogus science. One U.S. senator has demanded proof that wireless gadgets create interfere, on behalf of a public “growing increasingly skeptical of prohibitions.”The FCC is demanding answers, and the New York Times’ Nick Bilton has done a terrific job of consistently challenging the FAA’s spurious claims that it’s okay for pilots to use iPads but not passengers because, when it comes to radio wave emissions, “two iPads are different than 200” (they aren’t).

We’ve been playing along for more than a decade, submitting to illogical little rituals in the name of security. In 2002 I was scared too, and probably would have hopped on one foot in my underwear while singing the national anthem if someone in a uniform told me it would keep planes from exploding.

Today, I think it’s not selfish but fair and necessary to question some of this security theatre.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.